Musculoskeletal system

Did you know that 1 in 4 adults in New Zealand are affected by a musculoskeletal disorder? A high incidence might not surprise you, as likely all of us have experienced back, knee, neck, or arm pain from time to time.

Our musculoskeletal system is a crucial part of our bodies. For this reason, it is worth diving into exactly why the musculoskeletal system is essential, how it functions and how you can maintain its health.

Let’s zoom in on everything you need to know about the musculoskeletal system and how chiropractic care can help you maintain a healthy body.

Human male musculoskeletal system
Human male musculoskeletal system

What is the function of the musculoskeletal system?

The function of the musculoskeletal system is to help you move, support your body’s weight, and maintain your posture.

Your musculoskeletal system is made up of your:

  • bones
  • cartilage
  • connective tissues
  • ligaments
  • tendons.

These different components work together to support your movement and weight.

An adult body contains about 206 bones. Your skeleton performs six essential functions. These are:

  • movement
  • protection
  • support
  • storage of minerals
  • production of blood cells
  • endocrine regulation.

The centre of the bones is spongy with a hard shell on the outside. Bones provide form and structure for our bodies; our bones work with the other parts of the musculoskeletal system to perform essential functions like movement.

Cartilage is a smooth elastic connective tissue that cushions bones along the spine, inside the joints, and ribcage. This connective tissue ensures that your bones are not constantly rubbing against one another. Cartilage is also found in your ears, nose, lungs, and pelvis.

Where bones meet one another, you find joints. There are somewhere between 250 and 350 joints in your entire body. Different joints have different ranges of motion and different types of movements. For example, your knee joint allows your leg to move back and forth, while your shoulder joint will enable you to rotate your arm with a broader range of motion.

Muscles are soft tissues that are composed of thousands of stretching fibres. In the human body, there are roughly 600 muscles. Your muscles allow you to make all of your movements, whether running, lifting something, sitting upright, dancing, writing your name, talking, swallowing, or staying still.

These fibrous connective tissues connect bones—ligaments help stabilise joints and are made out of tough collagen fibres.

This tough band of fibrous connective tissue is how your bones and muscles are connected. Ligaments and tendons are pretty similar in both are composed of collagen. However, tendons join bone to muscle while ligaments connect bone to bone.

How does the musculoskeletal system work?

Your body’s command centre is known as the nervous system. This system controls the voluntary muscle movement of your body. In your body, you have voluntary muscles and involuntary muscles. Your voluntary muscles are those that you have intentional control over.

Some of your voluntary muscles involve large muscle groups that allow you to make movements, such as jumping. Others involved smaller muscle groups that enable you to make smaller movements, such as pushing a button.

The process through which you can move your voluntary muscles occurs in this order:

  1. As part of your nervous system, your brain and nerves send a message to your voluntary, or skeletal, muscles for activation.
  2. In response to the message from your nervous system, the fibres of your muscle tense up.
  3. The tendon (a fibrous collagen tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone) is pulled on as the muscle tenses up or is activated.
  4. The tendon then pulls on the bone leading it to move.
  5. Your nervous system sends the message for the muscles to deactivate or relax.
  6. In response to this message, the muscle relaxes and releases tension, which then moves the bone back into a position of rest.

As you can see, the musculoskeletal system is a vital system in your body that supports some of your most basic movements.

Why is the musculoskeletal system important?

The musculoskeletal system provides essential functions that support you in your daily activities. This system allows you to move your body while providing stability, form, and support.

When your musculoskeletal system is experiencing pain or dysfunction, it can seriously impact your ability to move around as you typically would and perform regular daily functions.

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

There are more than 150 different types of musculoskeletal disorders. These conditions directly affect the muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, and tendons.

An injury commonly causes this type of disorder to one of the components of the musculoskeletal system. Physical damage, wear and tear, and disease are causes of musculoskeletal pain.

Here are some of the more common musculoskeletal disorders:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle loss (sarcopenia)
  • Arthritis, which includes osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis
  • Injuries like dislocations and fractures
  • Problems with the structure of joint or bone, for example, scoliosis.
There are hundreds of different health conditions that can create problems in your musculoskeletal system. These conditions can lead to changes in how you speak, move, and interact with the world. Some of the most common causes of movement problems and musculoskeletal disorders include:

As we age, our bones lose density, our muscles lose mass, and cartilage begins to wear away.

This condition results in joint stiffness, inflammation, and pain and it can affect people of all ages.

There are several different types of cancer, including bone cancer, that impact the musculoskeletal system.

Birth defects such as clubfoot can affect the structure, function, and appearance of the body.

There is a long list of different diseases that can impact how your bones, muscles, and connective tissues function. 

Countless different types of injury can affect your connective tissues, bones, muscles, and cartilage.

What causes musculoskeletal pain?

Musculoskeletal pain can result from non-musculoskeletal disorders. These disorders cause pain in the muscles, bones, ligaments, and joints. However, the pain is not originating from the musculoskeletal system itself.

Examples of things that can cause musculoskeletal pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Infections of the muscles, bones, or other soft tissues
  • Overuse while playing sports or at work
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Tumours that put pressure on your bones and tendons

Referred pain is pain felt in one part of your body but originates from an injury or issue with another part of the body.

You can experience referred pain in your musculoskeletal system. Referred pain might lead you to believe that it is the origin of your problem.

Referred pain can stem from your lungs, heart, kidneys, spleen, gallbladder, and pancreas.

The most common type of musculoskeletal pain is lower back pain. Up to 80% of New Zealanders will experience lower back pain at some stage.

Some other common types of musculoskeletal pain include:

  • Bone pain resulting from an injury such as a tumour, fracture, infection, or hormone disorder.
  • Muscle pain (myalgia) resulting from an infection, injury, tumour, spasm or cramp, or loss of blood flow to the muscle.
  • Joint pain resulting from arthritis.
  • Ligament and tendon pain resulting from things like a strain, sprain, or inflammation
  • Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body and muscles, tendons, and joints.
  • Nerve compression pain results from disorders that put pressure on your nerves.

All individuals will occasionally experience pain in their joints and muscles. For many people, musculoskeletal issues are temporary conditions that they can recover from without long-term health issues.

What are the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain?

Depending on your pain source, the severity and feeling of pain can vary greatly.

Bone pain is typically more uncomfortable than tendon pain or muscle pain. It usually feels like a deep, sharp, stabbing, or dull sensation.

Tendon pain typically improves with rest and worsens when you stretch or move the affected tendon. If an injury caused this pain and the pain might feel quite sharp.

If muscle pain is caused by a powerful muscle contraction or a cramp, the pain might be short-lived yet intense. During an experience such as this, the muscle might contract or twitch uncomfortably.

When you experience joint pain, it can feel like an aching pain that might be accompanied by swelling and stiffness.
A person who experiences fibromyalgia will typically have a few different tender spots throughout their musculoskeletal system.

If you are experiencing nerve compression pain, the quality of the pain might have burning, pins and needles, or a tingling sensation.

The cause of the pain will inform the other types of symptoms that might accompany the pain, but some examples include:

  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • redness
  • soreness
  • trouble moving the area
  • popping or cracking sound in the joints
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • twitches or muscle spasms
  • difficulty sleeping
  • bruising.

How can musculoskeletal health be improved?

As you can see, keeping your musculoskeletal system healthy is vital for your overall health and comfort. There are many different things that you can do in your daily life to ensure that your musculoskeletal system is as healthy as possible.

The things you should do to take care of your musculoskeletal system are similar to what you should do to improve your overall health.

Movement can help to keep your bones, joints, and muscles healthy, though getting sufficient exercise every week is vital.

Avoiding processed foods and eating a balanced diet that includes fresh, whole foods are essential to the health of your musculoskeletal system.

These types of exercises can help to improve bone density and strengthen our core muscles.

Vitamin D is essential to our health, and the sun helps our bodies produce our vitamin D, which assists in strengthening bones and absorbing calcium. 

The body needs water to lubricate the joints and to maintain the flexibility of the tendons and ligaments. Dehydration can lead to increased joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. In addition, dehydration can also cause cramping in the muscles.

When you sleep, your body can repair joints and muscles that were injured or strained during your day.

Smoking has a significant impact on musculoskeletal health. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop osteoporosis, and that smoking can also impede the healing of fractures. In addition, smokers are at increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition that can lead to joint damage and deformity. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your musculoskeletal health.

Drinking alcohol excessively lowers the formation of bone cells and this can lead to bone fracture and osteoporosis.

Who treats musculoskeletal problems?

Musculoskeletal problems can be treated in several different ways. A general practice doctor may treat musculoskeletal pain or you might see other practitioners like a chiropractor or physiotherapist.

Medications may also be suggested or prescribed to help manage musculoskeletal pain. 

There are also several complementary and alternative therapies and supplements to treat musculoskeletal problems. These include:

  • Chiropractic therapy
  • Osteopathic therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Remedial and therapeutic massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements as recommended by your general practitioner.

Depending on the musculoskeletal issue, individuals might also use devices or aids such as braces, cervical collar, lumbar support, orthotics, or taping.

Surgery might be the last resort for people whose issues have not responded to more conservative treatments.

Are you experiencing musculoskeletal pain?

A chiropractor is a licensed health practitioner that can make chiropractic adjustments in your body. Using their hands or special tools to manipulate an individual’s joints, this practice can help to correct the body’s alignment, reduce pain, and lead to better overall physical function.

Is it time for you to visit a chiropractor? If so, contact us today to schedule an appointment.