NURS 6512 Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System

NURS 6512 Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System

NURS 6512 Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System

A 46-year-old man walks into a doctor’s office complaining of tripping over doorways more frequently. He does not know why. What could be the causes of this condition?
Without the ability to use the complex structure and range of movement afforded by the musculoskeletal system, many of the physical activities individuals enjoy would be curtailed. Maintaining the health of the musculoskeletal system will ensure that patients live a life of full mobility. One of the most basic steps that can be taken to preserve the health of the musculoskeletal system is to perform an assessment.
This week, you will explore how to assess the musculoskeletal system.
Learning Objectives
Students will:
• Evaluate abnormal musculoskeletal findings
• Apply concepts, theories, and principles relating to health assessment techniques and diagnoses for the musculoskeletal system
• Evaluate musculoskeletal X-Ray imaging

Learning Resources

Required Readings (click to expand/reduce)

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

• Chapter 4, “Vital Signs and Pain Assessment” (Previously read in Week 6)
• Chapter 22, “Musculoskeletal System”

This chapter describes the process of assessing the musculoskeletal system. In addition, the authors explore the anatomy and physiology of the musculoskeletal system.
Dains, J. E., Baumann, L. C., & Scheibel, P. (2019). Advanced health assessment and clinical diagnosis in primary care (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis in Primary Care, 6th Edition by Dains, J.E., Baumann, L. C., & Scheibel, P. Copyright 2019 by Mosby. Reprinted by permission of Mosby via the Copyright Clearance Center.

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NURS 6512 Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System
NURS 6512 Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System

Chapter 22, “Lower Extremity Limb Pain”
This chapter outlines how to take a focused history and perform a physical exam to determine the cause of limb pain. It includes a discussion of the most common tests used to assess musculoskeletal disorders.

Chapter 24, “Low Back Pain (Acute)”
The focus of this chapter is the identification of the causes of lower back pain. It includes suggested physical exams and potential diagnoses.

Sullivan, D. D. (2019). Guide to clinical documentation (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.

• Chapter 2, “The Comprehensive History and Physical Exam” (“Muscle Strength Grading”) (Previously read in Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)
• Chapter 3, “SOAP Notes”

This section explains the procedural knowledge needed to perform musculoskeletal procedures.
Note: Download this Student Checklist and Abdomen Key Points to use during your practice abdominal examination.

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Musculoskeletal system: Student checklist. In Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination, 9th Edition by Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. Copyright 2019 by Elsevier Health Sciences. Reprinted by permission of Elsevier Health Sciences via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Musculoskeletal system: Key points. In Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination, 9th Edition by Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. Copyright 2019 by Elsevier Health Sciences. Reprinted by permission of Elsevier Health Sciences via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Katz, J. N., Lyons, N., Wolff, L. S., Silverman, J., Emrani, P., Holt, H. L., … Losina, E. (2011). Medical decision-making among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites with chronic back and knee pain: A qualitative study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 12(1), 78–85.

This study examines the medical decision making among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. The authors also analyze the preferred information sources used for making decisions in these populations.

Smuck, M., Kao, M., Brar, N., Martinez-Ith, A., Choi, J., & Tomkins-Lane, C. C. (2014). Does physical activity influence the relationship between low back pain and obesity? The Spine Journal, 14(2), 209–216. doi:10.1016/j.spinee.2013.11.010

Shiri, R., Solovieva, S., Husgafvel-Pursiainen, K., Telama, R., Yang, X., Viikari, J., Raitakari, O. T., & Viikari-Juntura, E. (2013). The role of obesity and physical activity in non-specific and radiating low back pain: The Young Finns study. Seminars in Arthritis & Rheumatism, 42(6), 640–650. doi:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2012.09.002

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CC: Lower back pain

HPI: Hispanic male patient JM, age 42, presented to the clinic today complaining of severe lower back pain over the past month. Periodically, the pain travels along his left leg. He felt a sharp, throbbing pain in his left lower leg, along with a tingling feeling. He said the ache in his back was an eight out of ten. He feels more discomfort when he lifts heavy objects, bends, or sits for lengthy periods of time. He says over-the-counter ibuprofen helps a little.

Current Medications:

OTC Ibuprofen 400mg Q4hrs as needed for pain.

Claritin 10mg daily for allergies

Lisinopril 5mg daily for hypertension

Allergies: No known drug allergy; environmental allergies: Pollen (Reaction- sneezing and watery eyes).

PMHx: Medical history includes hypertension 5 years ago. No hospitalizations. His vaccinations are all current.

Past surgical Hx: No surgical history reported.

Social Hx: JM has a high school diploma and is employed as a bricklayer for a local construction company. He is married and resides in a three-bedroom home with his wife and 10-year-old son. For the last ten years, he has been smoking one pack of cigarettes per day. He denied consuming alcohol or using illegal substances. Because of his back pain, he refuses to exercise on a regular basis. He follows a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

Family Hx: Mother is 65 years old, living, and has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. His father is 70 years old, living and suffering from hypertension and benign prostatic hyperplasia. Grandpa on the mother’s side passed away at age 64 due to heart attack complications. Maternal grandmother died at age 73 from asthma and diabetes related problems. His paternal grandfather passed away at age 71 due to COPD-related illnesses. His paternal grandmother was 55 years old when she passed away from lung cancer. At the age of 45, one sibling was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. One healthy kid of 10 years old.


General: Reported intermittent tingling and numbness in the left limb. No reports of fever, chills, or weight loss.

HEENT: Denies head injury, blurred vision, hearing loss. No changes in smell or taste reported. No complaints of epistaxis.  No sore throat was reported.

Skin: No skin lesion, mole, or rash.

Cardiovascular: No reports of heart murmur, chest discomfort, and irregular heartbeat.  No edema in the extremities.

Respiratory: No reports of cough or dyspnea.

Neurological: Denies migraines, fainting, or convulsions. No reports of coordination problems.

Musculoskeletal: Pain in the lower back and sometimes in the left leg. Denies that other parts of the body have swollen joints or muscle pain.

Hematologic/Lymphatic: Denies bleeding or bruising. Denies enlarged nodes or history of splenectomy.

Endocrine: No heat or cold intolerance reported. No c/o polydipsia or polyuria.


Physical Exam:

General: Patient is alert and oriented x3. He is calm and answers interview questions appropriately. He is well-nourished and well- developed. He reports weakness to the left lower extremity.

Vitals: BP- 145/88mmHg; HR- 90bpm and regular; Resp- 19bpm and regular; Temp- 98.5F orally; SPO2 99%R/A; Height- 5’8”; Weight- 166lbs; BMI- 25.2.

Skin: Turgor is good. No rashes or lesions.

HEENT: Head is normocephalic. PERRLA. Conjunctivae negative for exudate and hemorrhage. External auditory canal is patent. Ears are nontender and not swollen. Nares are patent. Nasal mucosa is pink without drainage. Oral mucosa is moist, pink with no lesions. No tonsillar swelling, no pharyngeal swelling.

Cardiovascular/peripheral Vascular: Presence of S1S2 heart sounds during auscultation; no murmurs. Heart rate regular rhythm. Peripheral pulses 2+ symmetrical bilaterally. No peripheral edema.

Respiratory: Chest symmetrical. No adventitious lung sound auscultated.

Gastrointestinal: Abdomen is symmetrical. Normoactive bowel sounds x four quadrants. Abdomen is soft, nontender. No palpable masses.

Musculoskeletal: Low back pain with flexion, extension, and twisting. Limited ROM to lower extremities. No sign of trauma to lower back.

Neurological: Alert and oriented x3. Appropriate affect and mood.

Diagnostic Test:

  1. Complete blood count (CBC) to verify infection (high WBC count).
  2. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) to detect inflammation.
  3. A computed tomography (CT) scan to detect unusual tissues and analyze the patient’s spinal status.
  4. Imaging of the spinal cord and nerves using (MRI) magnetic resonance imaging (Dains et al., 2019).


Differential Diagnosis:

  1. Lumber disc herniation (LDH): Lumbar disc herniation is defined as the movement of disc material (annulus fibrosis or nucleus pulposus) over the intervertebral disc area, causing low back and/or leg pain (Yang et al., 2022). It usually starts with lower back discomfort that spreads down one leg and is often followed by sensations of numbness or tingling in the lower leg. The symptoms of LDH correspond to the patient’s chief concern.
  2. Sciatica: Sciatica is characterized by radiating and tingling pain down the leg and lower back caused by inflammation or compression of the lumbosacral nerve roots (Jensen et al., 2019). Furthermore, sciatica is frequently brought on by a herniated spinal disk, excessive movement, or heavy lifting, according to Dains et al. (2019). The patient is overweight, and his job requires heavy lifting and recurrent movements, which may contribute to his lower back pain.
  3. Lumber Spinal Stenosis (LSS): Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is a degenerative disc condition that causes the area encompassing the vertebrae’s neurovascular systems to narrow (Fishchenko et al., 2018). Symptoms of nerve inflammation or compression include discomfort and weakness or numbness in the legs. A history, physical examination, and imaging studies are used to make the diagnosis. The assessment should concentrate on leg or buttock pain while ambulating and stretching to alleviate symptoms (Chagnas et al., 2019).
  4. Piriformis Syndrome (PS): Muscle spasm in the piriformis and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve in the area are the root causes of piriformis syndrome, as stated by Siddiq & Rasker (2019). Physical examination, patient history, and imaging studies like x-rays are used to determine the diagnosis of PS. The authors indicated that the flexion-adduction-internal rotation test, the Pace sign, and the Freiberg techniques are used to identify individuals with PS. Pain and weakness by resisted abduction and external rotation of the hip while seated suggests signs of Pace. The Freiberg sign manifests as pain and weakness with passive forced internal rotation of the hip in a supine position.
  5. Lumbar spondylolisthesis: Low back pain, lower limb radiating pain, and sporadic neurogenic claudication are symptoms of lumbar spondylolisthesis, a degenerative condition of the lumbar spine (Wang et al., 2022). The patient’s symptoms match the above statement, too.


Chagnas, M.-O., Poiraudeau, S., Lef vre-Colau, M.-M., Rannou, F., & Nguyen, C. (2019).

Diagnosis and management of lumbar spinal stenosis in primary care in france: A survey

of general practitioners. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 20(1).

Dains, J.E., Baumann, L.C., & Scheibel, P. (2019). Advanced health assessment and clinical diagnosis in primary care (6th ed.). St.

Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

Fishchenko, I. V., Kravchuk, L. D., & Perepechay, O. A. (2018). Lumbar spinal stenosis: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment (meta-

analysis of literature data). Pain Medicine, 3(1), 18–32. https:// doi

Jensen, R.K., Kongstead, A., Kjaer, P., & Koes, B. (2019). Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ. 16273.

Siddiq, M. B., & Rasker, J.J (2019). Piriformis pyomyositis, a cause of piriformis syndrome-a systematic search and review. Clinical

            Rheumatology, 38(7), 1811-1821.

Wang, P., Zhang, J., Liu, T., Yang, J., & Hao, D. (2022). Comparison of degenerative lumbar

spondylolisthesis and isthmic lumbar spondylolisthesis: Effect of pedicle screw

placement on proximal facet invasion in surgical treatment. BMC Musculoskeletal

            Disorders, 23(1).

Yang, S., Shao, Y., Yan, Q., Wu, C., Yang, H., & Zou, J. (2021). Differential diagnosis strategy

between lower extremity arterial occlusive disease and lumbar disc herniation. BioMed

            Research International, 2021, 1–5.