Musculoskeletal disorders are a group of conditions that can affect the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and spinal disks.

Musculoskeletal disorders may cause pain, loss of mobility, swelling, and stiffness.

This article will discuss the different types of musculoskeletal disorders and their potential symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 150 musculoskeletal disorders typically fall within four categories.

Joint conditions

Several musculoskeletal disorders can affect the joints, including:

  • Gout: A type of inflammatory arthritis that can cause swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. Gout typically affects the lower limbs.
  • Osteoarthritis: A disease in which the cartilage in the joints breaks down, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: A type of arthritis that can cause fatigue, pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints that typically occurs in flares and affects the hands, wrists, and feet.
  • Bursitis: A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that minimizes friction between the tendons, bones, and joints. Bursitis occurs when there is inflammation of the bursa, which can cause pain and a reduction of mobility in the joints.

Bone conditions

Musculoskeletal disorders that can affect the bones can include:

  • Osteoporosis: A gradual weakening of the bones which typically develops slowly, making the bones more vulnerable to fractures and breaks.
  • Osteopenia: A decrease in bone mineral density that is not severe enough for a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
  • Osteomalacia: A softening and weakening of the bones due to them not hardening properly after forming.

Muscle and tendon conditions and injuries

Several musculoskeletal disorders can affect the muscles and tendons, such as:

  • Muscular dystrophy: A group of genetic conditions that slowly cause the muscles to weaken over time.
  • Sarcopenia: When the muscles surrounding the skeleton start to lose size and strength.
  • Myasthenia gravis: A rare condition in which voluntary muscles weaken and tire easily. Voluntary muscles are attached to bones and contract and relax under a person’s conscious control.
  • Rotator cuff tear: A torn tendon around the shoulder joint that can cause pain and a reduction in mobility.
  • Tendinitis: This describes inflammation of a tendon. Repetitive strain on a tendon can cause pain, swelling, and a reduction of mobility in that area.

Other health conditions

Several musculoskeletal disorders can affect multiple areas of the body or bodily systems, including:

Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders can vary.

However, a 2020 source suggests that two possible symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders are pain and a restriction of mobility.

According to Colorado State University, other symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders can include:

  • weakness
  • stiffness
  • numbness
  • a burning or tingling sensation
  • swelling
  • a loss of strength
  • fatigue
  • discomfort

According to the WHO, the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder increases as a person ages.

Additionally, 2022 research suggests that females may be more likely to develop a musculoskeletal disorder than males.

Other causes and risk factors for developing a musculoskeletal disorder may include:

  • doing heavy physical labor
  • prolonged sitting or standing in an awkward position
  • repetitive strain
  • smoking
  • having obesity
  • eating an unhealthy diet
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • doing high intensity dynamic exercise
  • having other health conditions, such as kidney dysfunction
  • having a family history of a musculoskeletal disorder
  • having autoimmune diseases
  • having metabolic syndromes

To diagnose a musculoskeletal disorder, a doctor may perform a physical examination to observe the posture and gait of a person. They may also assess each joint for:

  • range of motion
  • stability
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • redness or discoloration
  • popping, clicking, or cracking sounds

Following a physical examination, a doctor may order several tests and imaging scans, such as:

Treatment for a musculoskeletal disorder may vary, depending on the symptoms a person experiences and the area of the body it affects.

Several treatment options may help reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness, and improve range of motion. These may include:

There are several ways a person may be able to prevent a musculoskeletal disorder from developing, including:

  • warming up and stretching before physical activity
  • maintaining good posture as much as possible, such as a straight back with a relaxed neck and shoulders
  • reducing sudden, extreme movements, for example, while twisting and bending
  • avoiding having the neck bent forward for long periods
  • moving the body frequently and avoiding being static for long periods
  • alternating tasks to try and avoid repetitive strain
  • avoiding lifting heavy objects
  • making various adjustments if an activity or task causes discomfort
  • using the largest joints and muscles in the body to complete an activity or task
  • avoiding reaching for objects
  • quitting smoking
  • taking part in regular, low impact exercise
  • managing stress
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Musculoskeletal disorders are a group of conditions that can affect the joints, muscles, and bones.

There are over 150 musculoskeletal disorders, which include conditions, such as back pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, and tendonitis.

Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders may include pain and a loss of mobility. Treatments may include pain medications, physical therapy, and joint replacement surgery.

A person should speak with a doctor for more information about musculoskeletal disorders. A healthcare professional can work out the underlying cause of a person’s symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.