What is Musculoskeletal Health?

The musculoskeletal system is the system of muscles, tendons and ligament, bones and joints, and associated tissues that move the body and help us to maintain our structure and form. Health of this system is defined as the absence of disease or illness within all of the parts of this system. When pain arises in the muscles, bones, or other tissues, it can be a result of either a sudden incident (or acute pain) or an ongoing condition (called chronic pain). Keeping this system of the body healthy is crucial not only to health in other body systems, but also for overall happiness and quality of life.

Common Muskuloskeletal Conditions

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Inflammatory arthritis (most commonly, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Back pain
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (such as occupational or physical activity injuries)
  • Crystal arthritis (such as gout)
  • Osteoporosis and related fractures

Risk Factors

What are the factors that increase the risk of developing one or more of these conditions? While not every musculoskeletal condition can be avoided, there are certain lifestyle factors that will increase your risk:


Research has consistently shown that smoking reduces the blood supply to bones, slows the production of bone-forming cells (osteoblasts), decreases the absorption rate of calcium from one’s diet, and breaks down bone-building hormones in the body at a rapid pace. What’s more, smoking effects the other tissues that make up the musculoskeletal system,
including tendons, ligaments, and the muscles themselves.

Excess Soda or Alcohol Consumption

Excess soda consumption can also interfere with calcium absorption, a problem that over time could lead to osteoporosis. Likewise, alcohol can have the same effect, and also may lead to joint inflammation, especially for individuals who already suffer from arthritis.

Inadequate Calcium and Vitamin D Intake

Calcium and vitamin D work together, and are needed for the health of our bones, but also to help our muscles work properly. The absence of calcium and vitamin D from our diet causes the body to remove it from our bones and other tissues for use, which results in porous bone tissue– or bones that are brittle and weak.

Inadequate Physical Activity

The old saying- move it or lose it– is a very appropriate adage for musculoskeletal health. Without regular activity, muscle mass is diminished, bones are weakened, and the other tissues of the system become prone to injury or disease from lack of use.

How to Achieve Musculoskeletal Health

If you have difficulty with any of the above mentioned risk factors, you are not alone. However, making positive lifestyle changes can result in a significant impact in your overall musculoskeletal health. The best way to prevent chronic illness is to aim for the following:

  • Engage in regular physical activity for general fitness. Cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises should all be included weekly.
  • Follow a balanced diet that includes the required amounts of calcium and vitamin D for your age and sex.
  • Avoid smoking, or aim to quit if you are a smoker.
  • Consume only moderate amounts of alcohol and soda.
  • Implement and be aware of physical safety measures when exercising, while in an automobile, and a work.

Know Your Risk for Osteoporosis

You may have heard of the condition known as osteoporosis, one of the most common bone disorders in the United States. Mayo Clinic describes osteoporosis as a chronic condition of the skeleton and other related tissues in which the bones become weak and brittle– so brittle in fact that a fall or even mild physical stresses like bending over or coughing could potentially cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures typically occur in the hip, spine, or wrists, but can happen in any bone where stress or force is placed.

Bone is a living tissue, and like all others it requires continued nutrients, movement through physical activity, and can be damaged through environmental and lifestyle hazards. It affects men and women, and crosses all race lines, but certain groups do fall into high risk categories. Some refer to osteoporosis as the “silent disease” as it typically presents with no visible signs or symptoms. This is because the early stages of bone loss are undetectable by a visual examination alone. Rather, osteoporosis is usually diagnosed once the sufferer experiences a fracture for the first time, or when back pain becomes so severe that the individual seeks the care of a healthcare professional.

High Risk Groups

As previously stated, no one is immune from osteoporosis. However, certain groups of people fall into higher risk categories, due to bone structure and hormonal levels within the body across the lifespan.

Women are universally found to be at higher risk than their male counterparts. The reduction of estrogen levels at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis as these levels fall and do not return to pre-menopausal levels.

Men are not exempt from depleted bone mass, however. They also experience gradual reduction in testosterone levels with age, which results in weakened bone mass, although not as severe as seen in women.

Certain racial groups also experience higher risk for developing bone health issues. Those of Caucasian or Asian descent are at the highest risk, while those of African descent typically experience the lowest level of risk. Additionally, if there is a family history of the disease, risk will be higher across all racial lines.

Finally, lifestyle factors again play a significant role in bone health across the entire life cycle. Smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic dietary deficiencies are among the highest risk factors identified in the lifestyle category.

Chronic Pain Management: An Individual Approach

Musculoskeletal pain is any pain that affects the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. This type of pain is symptomatic in hundreds of medical diagnoses, and the umbrella of conditions can either be acute or chronic. Some of the most common conditions in this category include: arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, musculoskeletal injury or overuse, and even disorders such as depression and anxiety, which can result in physical pain.

If you have ever suffered from pain associated with any of the above mentioned conditions, you know that the overall impact is profound. In fact, people sometimes describe it as a total body ache that will simply not go away. Other times, the pain leads to more symptoms, including restlessness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Therefore, pain management–especially with chronic or unavoidable conditions–is crucial.

There are several different types of therapies and treatments for dealing with the spectrum of musculoskeletal pain and symptoms. Below is a list of common treatment modalities:


Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), acetaminophen or opioids may be used to treat inflammation or pain. Anti-inflammatory medications in or around painful sites administered by injection are also common, and may be helpful in reducing pain and swelling. However, many medications are intended for short term use, so speak with your doctor if you feel you are becoming dependent on pain alleviating prescriptions or OTC meds.

Physical Therapy

Sometimes pain treatment can be accomplished through physical therapy. Physical therapy (PT), involves the treatment, healing, and prevention of injuries or disabilities. PT helps to relieve pain, promote healing, and restore function and movement.

Acupuncture or Acupressure

Although the World Health Organization currently recognizes more than 30 diseases or conditions that can be helped by acupuncture treatment, one of the main uses of acupuncture is for pain relief. In acupuncture, disposable, stainless steel needles are used to stimulate the body in order to overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting imbalances. Acupuncture is also thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of chemicals that block pain signals to the brain, called endorphins.

Relaxation Techniques

While the verdict on this kind of alternative pain management may be mixed, many people find the use of relaxation techniques to be effective in managing chronic pain. These techniques include: meditation, massage, guided imagery, biofeedback, and even hypnosis.
Massage and chiropractic treatment are most widely used non-surgical treatments for back pain, but can also be a valuable part of a treatment plan for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions.

No matter which treatment plan works for you, be sure to consult with your doctor about any and all treatment options.

For more information, visit the Benefit Options Wellness website. Also, see the Quarter 2 Fact Sheet, Joint Pain, for more information on common joint conditions, signs and symptoms, and for care of this family of diseases.

Work Toward Prevention

It’s true that all cases of osteoporosis cannot be prevented by lifestyle choices alone. Some people fall into high risk categories- and biology is simply unavoidable. That being said, osteoporosis prevention through awareness and consistent, healthy behaviors over time can still be effective.

Ensuring that your diet includes the recommendation for calcium (1000 mg/day for adults) and vitamin D (600 IU) everyday, especially in older age, is very important. Calcium rich foods include: low fat dairy, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals. Adequate vitamin D can be gained by eating salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish sources, as well as through fortified cereals, grains, and milk.

The Surgeon General recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per day for general health, and this will also help maintain healthy bone mass. Aim for two weight bearing exercise sessions per week in your exercise regimen.

Content Credit: BeWell News (Quarter 2, 2014), Benefit Health Options. www.benefitoptions.az.gov/wellness