Whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior or just someone who likes to put in a hard day’s labor into a garden, Musculoskeletal pain is musculoskeletal pain. You can make the case that essentially all such injuries are "sports related". They affect all occupations, ages, races and gender.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a third of all work days lost to recuperation each year, are musculoskeletal.

I grew up athletically inclined. I loved sports and was always looking to get my body in a shape that would get me ahead of the game, so to speak. When not careful, there was occasionally a price to be paid.

Interestingly enough, when I began primary care practice, I noticed that about a quarter of my patients were coming in for musculoskeletal injuries, which is true for many primary care physicians. This is when I took a serious look at sports medicine as an added discipline in my practice.

Especially in light of data in recent years that suggest doctors recommend their patients get more exercise, it stands to reason that there will be a flip side to that coin-when exercise gets the better of my patient, I need to be there for them in those times as well.

Musculoskeletal pain can affect the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves. It can be acute through direct trauma or chronic (long-lasting). Musculoskeletal pain can be localized in one area or widespread across the body.

In the summer months, many of these injuries pick up as people engage in outdoor activities, but even in winter we continue to see some injuries and flares in winter sport athletes and patients with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. 

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) can be brought about through even more benign activity such as repetitive movement, overuse or prolonged immobilization. Even bad posture or poor body mechanics may cause spinal alignment issues and muscle shortening, which often causes other muscles to become misused and painful.

Lower back pain is a very common type of musculoskeletal pain. Others include tendonitis, myalgia (muscle pain), and stress fractures. Common symptoms are pain, fatigue and problems with sleep.

When is it time to see your doctor?

Severe trauma should be seen by emergency professionals immediately. If you find you have a joint that cannot bear weight or have recurrent pain, swelling or stiffness that doesn’t go away for a couple of weeks, it’s probably time to check in with your doctor.

Many of these injuries will heal and symptoms will subside within two weeks with simple therapies such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and rest. Advanced musculoskeletal problems may require prescription medications and perhaps physical or occupational therapy.

In either case, my biggest concern is "injury avoidance", keeping the patient away from what caused the injury in the first place.

My advice to those wanting to re-engage in physical activity is first:

n Go slow.

n Pick an activity that is suited to you and work from a level of activity that is comfortable.

n Increase level of activity no more than 10 percent per week.

Warming up is always good, (light jogging before running) but here’s a tip: Stretch after you work out. Stretching after an activity is more beneficial and less detrimental in recovering from an injury.

And, while it’s true that MSDs tend to increase with age, getting old doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to develop one. In fact, studies by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), show that low back pain typically affects adults in their 30s and 40s. By taking care of your body throughout adulthood, you can potentially decrease your risk of developing musculoskeletal problems as you age.

Dr. Mathew W. John, M.D., practices family and sports medicine at St. Mary’s Medical Center and can be reached at the Oak Grove Medical Clinic, 816-690-6566.