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FAQs: Treating Musculoskeletal Pain Without Medication

Are you experiencing aching or stiffness in your bones or joints? Does your back frequently hurt? You may be suffering from musculoskeletal pain, which can affect several parts of your body. Although this chronic pain may be uncomfortable, there are a number of ways it can be treated to help minimize pain and allow you to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Better yet, your doctor may be able to recommend ways to treat your pain that do not require medication.

Before a doctor can prescribe a course of treatment, you need to learn what is causing muscle and bone aches. To learn more about what could be causing your pain, check out the answers to some commonly asked questions from Megan Cortazzo, MD, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

What Is Musculoskeletal Pain and Which Parts of the Body Can be Affected?

Musculoskeletal pain can affect your bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons. Some people experience discomfort in only one area, but others may have a more widespread sensation.

What Is Causing My Musculoskeletal Pain?

Discomfort may be caused by an injury resulting from things like car accidents, dislocations, falls, or fractures and sprains. Overuse, which is common in back pain, also can cause musculoskeletal pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Pain?

Musculoskeletal pain symptoms can vary from person to person, but generally include:

  • Aching
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Burning sensation in muscles
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle twitching

When Do I Need to See My Doctor?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with musculoskeletal pain, you should see your doctor right away for a thorough exam. Your doctor may refer you to a physiatrist, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, who is specially trained to diagnose and treat pain.

How Is Musculoskeletal Pain Diagnosed?

Your doctor or physiatrist will take your medical history, asking several questions about your pain, such as when and where you experience symptoms and sensations, and whether the pain is something you feel all the time. Your doctor will also want to know how your pain affects your function in order to restore your ability to perform everyday activities. Typically the physician will perform a hands-on exam in the affected area(s). Blood tests, x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may also be used to pinpoint the cause and type of your pain, and to help your doctor determine the best treatment for you.

Are There Treatment Options for Musculoskeletal Pain Other than Surgery and Medication?

Your doctor may suggest a combination of treatment options, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Heat or cold therapy
  • Injections
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Reducing workload and increasing rest
  • Relaxation and biofeedback techniques
  • Splinting the affected joint to allow it to heal
  • Strengthening and conditioning exercises
  • Stretching
  • Therapeutic massage

How can these treatments help relieve my pain?

Treatments are most effective when they are used to treat the cause of pain, and restore losses or changes in function. A physiatrist will take the time to identify the source of your pain, and choose a treatment plan specific to your needs.

For more information on musculoskeletal pain treatments, talk to your doctor or schedule an appointment with the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialists at UPMC.