What are musculoskeletal (MSK) problems?
MSK clinics help people who experience muscle, bone or joint pain and cover a large range of conditions caused by illness, injury or age. Musculoskeletal refers to areas of the body that include muscles, bones, joints and connecting tissues (ligaments and tendons that connect muscles to each other and to bones). Conditions that are managed by musculoskeletal services may include arthritis (inflammation of the joints), osteoporosis (weakening of the bones normally seen with increasing age), sprains, strains, dislocations and other issues that may be caused by overuse of muscles and joints such as lower back pain due to manual lifting. People of all ages can be affected but conditions are more commonly associated with an increase in age.
What to look out for
As conditions are so wide-ranging you can experience a spectrum of different symptoms. They may include general aching and stiffness in the joints or burning sensations in the muscles. Your muscles may feel tired (referred to as muscle fatigue) or you may notice muscle twitches and pain that gets worse when you move. MSK conditions often feel better with rest.
What you should do if you experience pain
Many people experiencing pain can be slow to seek help due to issues not appearing to be life-threatening or urgent. However, swift access to treatment can help to manage situations and prevent them from getting worse; helping to avoid taking time off work or having periods of time with reduced mobility. Problems account for approximately 30% of GP appointments – with lower back and neck pain amongst the highest causes of years lost to disability in the UK. If you experience pain, your first port of call is your GP. They will assess you and may refer you to the relevant musculoskeletal services for further tests and treatment. MSK pain can often be worse at night, interfering with sleep so if you find you need to visit a healthcare expert at this time you can find details of the East Berkshire Out Of Hours clinics at https://ebpcooh.org.uk/
What happens in a musculoskeletal assessment
When you visit your GP or healthcare professional, they will ask questions about your lifestyle and medical history to identify any potential causes that may have an impact on your MSK system. This may be linked to your job or lifestyle if you perform lots of tasks that involve lifting items or standing for long periods of time. Your health professional will also palpate (assess by touch) the affected part for swelling, tenderness and heat. They will look at the muscle texture and see if there are any tense muscles or trigger points. Your nerves and tendons (tissues that attach muscle to bone), will also be tested for sensation, strength and response.
Once you have been assessed your healthcare professional may refer you for blood tests, X-rays or scans. This will allow them to have a more in-depth look at what may be causing the pain. Depending on the cause of pain you may be referred to occupational therapy (to assess ways you live and work), physiotherapy, acupuncture or steroid injections to manage pain and inflammation along with pain relief.
You can often take steps to manage your own condition at home. It may be recommended to apply hot and cold compresses to ease swelling, pain and inflammation, particularly if the condition has been caused by an injury. Advice may include taking over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen which also helps reduce inflammation. You may be provided with a series of exercises to improve flexibility with regular stretching or to strengthen muscles. Some MSK pain can also be improved with stress-relieving techniques such as yoga and meditation.
Prevention: better than cure
Looking after yourself well with regular exercise including warming up and cooling down, supported with good nutrition can help maintain strong bones and joints and help prevent MSK pain. Make sure you have good posture, particularly when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Its also important to practice correct lifting techniques. If needing to lift a heavy load – avoid bending the back but make sure it stays straight. You should use your legs if the lift cannot be avoided. Limit repetitive movement and stretch muscles out regularly. It’s also wise to avoid smoking if you experience joint or muscle pain as this can cause inflammation.
Pain can often improve with the correct treatment. It is important you seek help from your GP or MSK clinic to ensure conditions can be managed.
Find a local musculoskeletal service: https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/other-services/Musculoskeletal/LocationSearch/1882