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Musculoskeletal Pain: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

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 they may feel tired, stiff, or sore.

The medical term for this type of pain is musculoskeletal pain. It can have many different causes.

Sometimes the pain is caused by an injury such as a strain or sprain. Or you might have pain from using one part of your body in the same way over and over again. This is called overuse.

In some cases, the cause of the pain is another health problem such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.

The doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health to help find the cause of your pain. Blood tests or imaging tests like an X-ray may also be helpful. But sometimes doctors can't find a cause of the pain.

Treatment depends on your symptoms and the cause of the pain, if known.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

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 or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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 heat or cold where your pain is, as needed. Use what helps you most. You can also switch between hot and cold packs.
    • Apply heat 2 or 3 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes. This can be done using a heating pad, hot shower, or hot pack to relieve pain and stiffness. But don't use heat on a newly swollen joint.
    • Put ice or a cold pack on the painful spot for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line 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 or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.