Musculoskeletal Pain

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8300

Our experts include specialists in primary care sports medicine, pain management, orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, and physiatry. Surgeons and non-surgeons alike collaborate with occupational and physical therapists to help patients recover and return to normal activities as quickly as possible.

Comprehensive Treatment for Musculoskeletal Conditions

Musculoskeletal pain affects bones, muscles, and soft tissue. Connective tissues that may be affected include:

  • Ligaments, which are cords of tissue that connect bones and stabilize joints
  • Tendons, which connect muscles to bones, allowing joints to move
  • Fascia, which are sheets of soft tissue that cover muscles, bones, and some organs

Musculoskeletal pain can occur anywhere in the body from head to foot, including the spine and upper and lower extremities. Pain can be short term (acute) or long term (chronic), and can vary in intensity from mild to severe.

UT Southwestern is home to leading specialists in the fields of orthopaedic surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and spine care, providing patients with expert-level care for every type of musculoskeletal condition. We specialize in relieving pain, restoring function, and improving quality of life for our patients. 

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Types of Musculoskeletal Pain

There are several types of musculoskeletal pain, and they have a wide range of symptoms and causes. Common types include:

  • Bone pain, which is usually deep, penetrating pain or a dull ache
  • Fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes problems with sleep, memory, and mood in addition to widespread musculoskeletal pain
  • Joint pain that occurs where bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments come together, such as knees, hips, or shoulders
  • Myalgia (muscle pain), which can include cramps and spasms
  • Nerve compression disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendon and ligament pain, which often becomes worse when the injured area is moved or stretched

Causes of Musculoskeletal Pain

Some common causes of musculoskeletal pain include:

  • Arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Autoimmune disorders such as lupus
  • Herniated spinal discs
  • Injuries caused by vehicle accidents, falls, broken bones, sprains, dislocations, or direct blows
  • Long periods of inactivity or poor posture
  • Overuse related to work or sports activities
  • Pinched nerves
  • Spasticity 
  • Spondylolisthesis, a spinal condition that affects the lower vertebrae

Less common causes include:

  • Loss of blood flow
  • Infections
  • Tumors
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Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Pain

Symptoms can differ from person to person, and they depend on whether the pain is the result of an injury or overuse and whether it’s chronic or acute. Common symptoms include:

  • Aching or stiffness of the affected body part
  • Burning sensation in the muscles
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Numbness, muscle weakness, or a “pins and needles” sensation, which can indicate a pinched nerve
  • Feeling of a pulled or overworked muscle
  • Localized or widespread pain that can worsen with movement
  • Muscle twitches
  • Fatigue
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Diagnosing Musculoskeletal Pain

Our physicians begin with a thorough evaluation that includes a:

  • Discussion of symptoms
  • Review of personal and family medical history
  • Physical exam

To pinpoint the underlying cause, we usually recommend one or more additional tests, which can include:

  • Blood tests: Tests of a patient’s blood sample to confirm a diagnosis of certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bone scan: Imaging that uses a small amount of a harmless radioactive dye to help diagnose several types of bone disease
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Specialized X-ray technology that takes cross-sectional images to produce detailed 3D images of bones
  • Joint fluid testing: Analysis of fluid drawn from the joint using a needle to check for infection or other signs of disease
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Large magnet and radio waves that produce detailed images to assess muscles, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons
  • Myelography: Imaging that uses contrast dye and X-rays to view the spinal canal
  • Nerve conduction studies: Tests that involve stimulating the patient’s nerves to measure electrical activity generated by the muscles and nerves
  • Ultrasound: Imaging that uses sound waves to view soft tissue such as ligaments
  • X-ray: Technology that uses small amounts of radiation to produce imaging of bones
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Treatment for Musculoskeletal Pain

After our comprehensive evaluation, our team discusses treatment options with each patient. We work closely with the patient to create a plan of care that will meet his or her unique needs.

Many musculoskeletal conditions can be treated without surgery using physical medicine and rehabilitation techniques. We often advise patients on actions they can take to reduce pain, including lifestyle changes that can help improve the condition and maintain long-term health.

For patients who require surgery, we use the least-invasive techniques possible to help ensure the patient can recover as quickly as possible and experience less scarring.

Depending on the specific condition, our specialists may recommend one or more treatments in a customized plan for each patient:

  • Anti-inflammatory cortisone injections, which can help reduce pain and inflammation in a certain area of the body
  • Arthroscopic surgery for conditions affecting the larger joints
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Biofeedback, which has been shown to lessen back pain in some patients
  • Minimally invasive surgery for patients with certain musculoskeletal conditions, such as a herniated disc or carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Muscle relaxants, which can help ease the pain caused by muscle cramps and spasticity
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are often used for conditions such as arthritis to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Nonsurgical treatment options, including the use of splints or braces, strengthening and conditioning exercises, stretching, and hot and cold therapy
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Spinal injections, such as epidurals, facet blocks, and selective nerve root blocks, which can benefit patients with chronic spine or back pain

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