You Can Live Well With a Musculoskeletal Disease

Your musculoskeletal system gives your body motion. Bones and skeletal muscles work in tandem; your muscles hold your bones in place and guide their movement. In addition to bones and muscle, the musculoskeletal system is comprised of connective tissue, such a tendons, which connect muscle to bone, and ligaments, which connect bone to bone, and cartilage, which is the tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones, acting as a "shock absorber" where bones meet at a joint.

When you're young and healthy, your bones and muscles are strong and your body tissues are resilient, giving you great power and mobility. But as you age, bones and joint tissues often degenerate, weakening and losing elasticity. The wearing down of cartilage, which does not grow back, along with the presence of bone that often grows in its place, results in the pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of strength and mobility in your joints associated with osteoarthritis. Age-related breakdown and loss of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints, also contributes to joint deterioration. Osteoarthritis most often occurs in the joints of the hands, hips, spine, knees, ankles, and feet.

Autoimmune Diseases May be Causing the Problem

In some cases, it is not the wear and tear of age, but an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, or an infection, that is responsible for chronic inflammation and joint damage. Early diagnosis is important or the resulting inflammation, pain, and degeneration of joints may progress more quickly and become more severe. Some musculoskeletal diseases spread beyond specific joints, to the skin, blood vessels, and in some cases, internal organs such as the kidneys heart and lung.

Because the many parts of the musculoskeletal system operate almost as one organ, it is important to keep each part as healthy as possible in order to support the others and keep the overall system as strong as possible. Maintaining bone, muscle, and connective tissue health through proper diet, exercise, and anti-inflammatory medication, if necessary, helps protect fragile joints by strengthening the body parts that support them. If your daily work causes stress on your joints from repeated lifting, bending, crawling or other physical activity, it is important to become familiar with, and practice, safety procedures specific to your job or chores. Losing weight if you are overweight goes a long way toward protecting your joints and diminishing symptoms of arthritis.

"Excess weight aggravates arthritis in two different ways," says Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Maryland. "The first is the obvious mechanical effect of too much stress on the joints, and the second is that fat cells produce leptins, which are proteins that aggravate inflammation." In effect, he points out, an obese person is carrying around an inflammation machine.

Nathan Wei, MD, reviewed this article.


Arthritis Foundation
Arthritis Today: "How it Hurts. Different Types of Arthritis Can Cause Different Types of Pain."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
"Arthritis," last reviewed March 2010; accessed 7 November 2013.

New York University Langone Medical Center: Division of Rheumatology"Osteoarthritis," accessed 7 November 2013.

University of Alabama School of Medicine, Comprehensive Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Autoimmunity Center. "Types of Arthritis/Autoimmune Diseases," updated 5 June 2013; accessed 7 November 2013.