Musculoskeletal Pain

Musculoskeletal pain affects bones, joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles. An injury such as a fracture may cause sudden, severe pain. A chronic condition like arthritis may also cause pain. If musculoskeletal pain interferes with your usual activities, speak with a healthcare provider. The right treatment can help relieve the pain.


What is musculoskeletal pain?

Musculoskeletal pain is pain that affects:

  • Bones.
  • Joints.
  • Ligaments.
  • Muscles.
  • Tendons.

Musculoskeletal pain can be acute, meaning it is sudden and severe. Or the pain can be chronic (long-lasting). You may have localized pain (in one area of your body), or it may affect your entire body.


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What are the types of musculoskeletal pain?

The most common types of musculoskeletal pain include:

  • Bone pain: Injuries such as bone fractures or other musculoskeletal injuries cause bone pain. Less commonly, a tumor may cause bone pain.
  • Joint pain: Stiffness and inflammation often accompany joint pain. For many people, joint pain gets better with rest and worsens with activity.
  • Muscle pain: Muscle spasms, cramps and injuries can all cause muscle pain. Some infections or tumors may also lead to muscle pain.
  • Tendon and ligament pain: Ligaments and tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect your joints and bones. Sprains, strains and overuse injuries can lead to tendon or ligament pain.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes musculoskeletal pain?

Common causes of musculoskeletal pain include:

  • Bone fractures.
  • Joint dislocation (when something forces a joint out of its proper position).
  • Direct blows to muscles, bones or joints.
  • Overuse injuries.
  • Poor posture.
  • Sprains.

What are the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain?

Your symptoms may vary depending on the cause of your musculoskeletal pain. Common symptoms include:

  • Aching and stiffness.
  • Burning sensations in the muscles.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle twitches.
  • Pain that worsens with movement.
  • Sleep disturbances.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is musculoskeletal pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider starts a diagnosis by taking a thorough medical history. Your healthcare provider may ask you questions to determine:

  • If you have other symptoms, such as a rash or fever.
  • Whether your pain is acute or chronic.
  • Which factors make pain worse or relieve it.

Then, your healthcare provider does a hands-on exam to look for the pain’s source. Your provider may touch or move the affected area.


What tests might I have for musculoskeletal pain?

Your healthcare provider may order other tests to find the underlying cause of the pain. These tests may include:

Management and Treatment

How is musculoskeletal pain treated?

Your treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your musculoskeletal pain. Common treatments include:

Can I treat musculoskeletal pain at home?

Your healthcare provider may guide you to manage musculoskeletal pain at home. Recommendations may include:

  • Hot and cold therapy.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Strengthening and conditioning exercises.
  • Stretching exercises.
  • Stress reduction techniques.

What medications are used for musculoskeletal pain?

Your treatment plan may include medication such as:


How can I prevent musculoskeletal pain?

Maintaining strong bones and joints is crucial for preventing musculoskeletal pain. You can work to avoid musculoskeletal pain if you:

  • Limit repetitive movements.
  • Use good posture.
  • Practice correct lifting techniques.
  • Stretch regularly.

Are there conditions that put me at higher risk for musculoskeletal pain?

Some conditions can increase the risk of musculoskeletal pain, including:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis causes chronic joint inflammation. Many people who have arthritis experience joint pain and stiffness.
  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness that causes all-over musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. Usually, people with fibromyalgia experience muscle, tendon or ligament pain.
  • “Tunnel” syndromes: Some conditions cause nerve compression or pinched nerves. A few examples of these conditions include carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome and tarsal tunnel syndrome. Often, overuse injuries lead to these conditions.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with musculoskeletal pain?

Usually, musculoskeletal pain improves with proper treatment. If an underlying condition causes musculoskeletal pain, treating that condition can help relieve symptoms.

Living With

When should I seek care for musculoskeletal pain?

If pain interferes with your daily activities or how well you can function, speak with a healthcare provider. Seek immediate medical help if you have severe pain from a sudden injury.

How can I best learn to cope with musculoskeletal pain?

To help yourself cope with musculoskeletal pain:

  • Avoid smoking, which increases inflammation.
  • Eat a healthy, non-inflammatory diet.
  • Rest the injured muscle, joint or bone.
  • Stretch daily or as often as your healthcare provider advises.
  • Take pain medications as prescribed.
  • Use ice and heat to decrease swelling and inflammation.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Musculoskeletal pain can cause discomfort and disrupt your daily activities. Sometimes, a sudden injury such as a broken bone causes severe pain. For some people, underlying conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia lead to pain. Whether your musculoskeletal pain is acute or chronic, the right treatment can relieve your symptoms.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/10/2021.

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