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Introduction to Diagnosis of Musculoskeletal Disorders

By Alexandra Villa-Forte, MD, MPH, Staff Physician, Center for Vasculitis Care and Research, Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases, Cleveland Clinic

The musculoskeletal system comprises bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and bursae (see Introduction to Biology of the Musculoskeletal System). Any of these components can be injured or affected by a number of disorders. Some disorders affect primarily the joints (such as osteoarthritis), causing arthritis. Other disorders affect primarily the bones (such as fractures, Paget disease of bone, and tumors) or muscles or other soft tissues (such as fibromyalgia and tendinitis). Different diagnostic tests are available to diagnose musculoskeletal disorders (see Tests for Musculoskeletal Disorders), but the most important elements of diagnosis are the doctor's medical history and physical examination.