Common Causes of Musculoskeletal Pain

Female athletes celebrating at a soccer game

Musculoskeletal pain can occur throughout the entirety of patients’ lives and can take on many different forms within this timeframe. From sudden, isolated injuries like fractures, sprains and strains to long-term diagnoses like chronic low back pain and osteoarthritis, there are over 150 conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system and can result in temporary or lifelong limitations in mobility.1

Because treating the root causes of patients’ pain can help to relieve their symptoms, it’s important for healthcare professionals to take the time to identify any underlying causes or conditions that could help to shape the development of more effective and personalized treatment plans for their patients.

Musculoskeletal Pain 101: Causes

  • What causes musculoskeletal pain?

    Man exercising outdoors with knee pain

    Common causes of musculoskeletal pain include:

    • Aging. As we age, we lose bone density, muscle mass, and cartilage, which lead to pain, stiffness and a decreased range of motion.
    • Wear and tear. Frequent use of the same muscle groups can lead to musculoskeletal pain. Sports training and exercise often rely on repetitive motions, and stressing overused muscles with increasing weight or repetitions can lead to more damage. Everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, reading, or lifting packages can also exacerbate pain.
    • Direct impacts. A sudden traumatic injury, such as a fall or a blow to your bones, joints and muscle tissue, can cause pain that lasts well after the initial bruises have healed, and can affect other parts of the body through the connections shared by tendons and ligaments.
    • Nerve compression. Nerve compression is caused by tissue swelling or damage and can affect different peripheral nerves in your upper or lower body. The most common forms of nerve compression include carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
    • Poor posture. Spinal alignment is crucial to preventing pain throughout the body. From neck to tailbone, poor posture can lead to tension in the spine, which can then cause muscles to be misaligned. Ergonomic chairs & pillows, changes in body mechanics, regular stretching, and massage therapy can help to improve posture over time.
    • Sprains & strains. Sprain and strain can occur in the ligaments and joints due to accidents, trauma and overuse.
    • Stress. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can cause the muscles in the body to tense up and remain on-guard for long periods of time—a state that can in turn trigger other stress responses and promote chronic, stress-related musculoskeletal conditions like lower back pain.2
    • Arthritis. Impacting nearly a quarter of Americans, arthritis is a common disorder that causes pain and inflammation in your joints, and is comprised of many types, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, fibromyalgia and lupus.
    • Tumors and cancer. Some tumors and cancers can lead to musculoskeletal pain, including Tenosynovial giant cell tumor (TGCT), which can cause joint pain and swelling, and several different cancers that develop within bone tissue.

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