Musculoskeletal pain (pain affecting the joints, bones or muscles) lasting more than 3 months is referred to as chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Chronic musculoskeletal pain is not just a physical problem but can also have significant impact on wellbeing and mental health. This can vary between patients but in some individuals can lead to complete loss of independence. Almost half of those with chronic pain also suffer with depression.
It is a common problem affecting up to 30% of UK adults at any time.
The symptoms associated with chronic musculoskeletal pain will depend on the underlying cause for the pain. The pain may be mild or severe and continuous or sporadic.
The most common pain locations are back, hips and knees.
Many types of musculoskeletal pain are associated with reduced range of movement of affected body structures resulting in limited function and restriction in activities.
Chronic pain is not only a physical problem; it often has severe effects on psychological, social and economic health.
There are over 200 different causes of chronic musculoskeletal pain but these can be organized according to whether they affect joints, bones or muscles (and tendons). Some examples of specific conditions are found below.
- Mechanical back pain
- Inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis etc.)
- Gout or pseudogout
- Joint hypermobility
- Compression fractures of the spine
- Paget’s disease
Muscles (and tendons)
Chronic musculoskeletal pain is usually diagnosed by taking a thorough history and examination to identify the type of pain, severity, functional impact and context.
Some patients may benefit from X-Rays, ultrasound scans or MRI scans of the affected areas.
A clinician may make recommendations for other investigations, such as blood tests or joint aspiration, depending on the underlying cause of the pain.