Week 8: Assessment of the Musculoskeletal System

Published by Brenda I. Belcher

Mar 27, 2021

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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

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.

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 Document: Episodic/Focused SOAP Note Exemplar (Word document)
Document: Episodic/Focused SOAP Note Template (Word document)

Optional Resource

LeBlond, R. F., Brown, D. D., & DeGowin, R. L. (2014). DeGowin’s diagnostic examination (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Medical.

  • Chapter 13, “The Spine, Pelvis, and Extremities” (pp. 585–682)

    In this chapter, the authors explain the physiology of the spine, pelvis, and extremities. The chapter also describes how to examine the spine, pelvis, and extremities.

Required Media (click to expand/reduce)


Discussion: Assessing Musculoskeletal Pain

In this Discussion, you will consider case studies that describe abnormal findings in patients seen in a clinical setting.

To prepare:

  • By Day 1 of this week, you will be assigned to one of the following specific case studies for this Discussion. Please see the “Course Announcements” section of the classroom for your assignment from your Instructor.
  • Your Discussion post should be in the Episodic/Focused SOAP Note format rather than the traditional narrative style Discussion posting format. Refer to Chapter 2 of the Sullivan text and the Episodic/Focused SOAP Template in the Week 5 Learning Resources for guidance. Remember that all Episodic/Focused SOAP notes have specific data included in every patient case.
  • Review the following case studies:

Case 1: Back Pain

Case 2: Ankle Pain

Case 3: Knee Pain

With regard to the case study you were assigned:

  • Review this week’s Learning Resources, and consider the insights they provide about the case study.
  • Consider what history would be necessary to collect from the patient in the case study you were assigned.
  • Consider what physical exams and diagnostic tests would be appropriate to gather more information about the patient’s condition. How would the results be used to make a diagnosis?
  • Identify at least five possible conditions that may be considered in a differential diagnosis for the patient.

Note: Before you submit your initial post, replace the subject line (“Discussion – Week 8”) with “Review of Case Study ___.” Fill in the blank with the number of the case study you were assigned.

By Day 3 of Week 8

Post an episodic/focused note about the patient in the case study to which you were assigned using the episodic/focused note template provided in the Week 5 resources. Provide evidence from the literature to support diagnostic tests that would be appropriate for each case. List five different possible conditions for the patient’s differential diagnosis, and justify why you selected each. 

Note: For this Discussion, you are required to complete your initial post before you will be able to view and respond to your colleagues’ postings. Begin by clicking on the “Post to Discussion Question” link, and then select “Create Thread” to complete your initial post. Remember, once you click on Submit, you cannot delete or edit your own posts, and you cannot post anonymously. Please check your post carefully before clicking on Submit!

Read a selection of your colleagues’ responses.

By Day 6 of Week 8

Respond to at least two of your colleagues on 2 different days who were assigned different case studies than you. Analyze the possible conditions from your colleagues’ differential diagnoses. Determine which of the conditions you would reject and why. Identify the most likely condition, and justify your reasoning.

Submission and Grading Information

Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 8 Discussion Rubric

Post by Day 3 of Week 8 and Respond by Day 6 of Week 8

To Participate in this Discussion:Week 8 Discussion


Assignment: Lab Assignment (Optional): Practice Assessment: Musculoskeletal Examination

A description of symptoms alone is not enough to form an accurate diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions. Before forming a diagnosis, advanced practice nurses need to perform a physical examination. Although the musculoskeletal examination is relatively simple, it still needs to be performed multiple times before it can be mastered.

In preparation for the Comprehensive (Head-to-Toe) Physical Assessment due in Week 9, it is recommended that you practice performing a musculoskeletal examination this week.

Note: This is a practice physical assessment.   

To Prepare

  • Arrange an appropriate time and setting with your volunteer “patient” to perform a musculoskeletal examination.
  • Download and review the Musculoskeletal Checklist provided in this week’s Learning Resources as well as review the Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination online media.

The Lab Assignment

Complete the following in Shadow Health:

  • Musculoskeletal (Practice)

What’s Coming Up in Week 9?

Week 9 Required Media

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