Musculoskeletal Pain: Care Instructions

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Different problems with the bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons in the body can cause pain. One or more areas of your body may ache or burn, or feel tired, stiff, or sore. This is called musculoskeletal pain.

This type of pain can have many different causes. Sometimes it's caused by an injury such as a strain or sprain. Or it might by caused by using one part of your body in the same way over and over again (overuse). In some cases, the cause is another health problem such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.

Treatment depends on your symptoms and the cause of the pain, if known. Sometimes doctors can't find a cause. But there are things you can do at home to help you feel better.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you have new pain, rest until you feel better. Do not do anything that makes the pain worse. Return to exercise gradually if you feel better and your doctor says it's okay.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore joint for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • After 2 or 3 days, you can try applying heat to the area that hurts. Apply heat for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Types of heat therapy include microwavable packs and disposable heating patches. You might also try switching between ice and heat.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new pain, or your pain gets worse.
  • You have new symptoms such as a fever, a rash, or chills.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.