Women Veterans Health Care
Musculoskeletal Conditions and Pain
Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are the number one reason Veterans seek treatment at VA. MSK injuries affect the body's movement. This involves muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints. MSK conditions may be caused by an accident (trauma), overuse (wear and tear), repetitive motions, strenuous physical training, and carrying heavy gear. Hip, knee, and ankle overuse injuries are especially common for women Veterans. It is important to get help because MSK injuries may cause long-term impacts like chronic pain if you do not seek treatment.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months. Some examples of chronic MSK pain are back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and joint problems. Chronic pain can impact your mood and make it difficult to work and participate in everyday activities.
Even though some MSK conditions may lead to chronic pain, treatment can be helpful in reducing pain and improving function and quality of life.
What services does VA provide for MSK conditions and chronic pain?
VA is here to support you. Our health care providers have special training to treat MSK conditions and pain in women Veterans. We offer services and treatment in VA medical centers and clinics available in the community. These services may include:
- Primary care (Talk to your primary care provider first about MSK concerns — they can refer you to specialized services as needed.)
- Physical therapy (helps with movement and function of body parts). Techniques may include:
- Heat treatments such as hot water baths and heating pads
- Cold treatments such as ice packs, ice baths, and ice massage
- Gentle stretching
- Muscle strengthening exercises
- Vibration therapy
- Aquatic therapy (therapy in a pool)
- Occupational therapy (helps with daily tasks like cooking or dressing, especially using hands and arms)
- Recreational therapy (such as therapy with visual arts and music)
- Chiropractic treatment (hands-on treatment to align the spine and restore joint mobility)
- Rheumatology (treatment for certain MSK conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus)
- Neurology and neuropsychology
- Physiatry referrals (providers trained in physical medicine and rehabilitation)
- Complementary and integrative health services such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, and relaxation treatments
- Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), pain medications, and some anti-seizure or anti-depressant medications
- Pain management injections like botulinum toxin and cortisone
- Cognitive behavioral pain self-management programs which teach relaxation, pacing, healthy sleep habits, and encourage healthy movement
The mind and body are interconnected. It is common for women with chronic pain to also be coping with mental health concerns like depression. Chronic pain treatment often includes treatment to support your mental health. Getting these treatments together may give you better pain relief.
How do I access services for MSK conditions at VA?
You must be enrolled in VA health care to receive MSK treatment, and these treatments must be medically necessary.
If you are already enrolled in VA health care, start by contacting your primary care provider. Let them know about any MSK symptoms or pain you are having. They will do an initial evaluation, and then make recommendations about treatments and consultations that may help.
If you do not have VA health care yet, please know that you do not have to be disabled to receive health care services at VA. To access women's health or other VA health services:
- If you have questions or can't find what you're looking for, you can call, text, or chat online with the Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) at 855-829-6636 to get help and find available resources and services in your area. Trained women representatives can also help you with issues such as:
- Enrolling in VA health care if you have not already
- Setting up a medical appointment in your area
- Answering questions about eligibility (including questions about disability ratings) and other VA benefits like employment, education, and home loans
- Find out if you are eligible for VA health care.
- Enroll in VA health care if you haven't already.
- Find your local VA to learn about what services may be available and to make an appointment.
Can I get disability compensation (monthly payments) or other benefits from VA related to my MSK condition?
Veterans may be able to receive compensation for conditions that started or got worse in the line of duty. This includes injuries or disabilities related to MSK conditions. Explore disability eligibility here. If you have questions, a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) representative at your nearest regional office can explain more. Find your nearest regional office.
Where can I find more information and resources on MSK conditions?
To learn more about MSK conditions, chronic pain, and VA treatment options, access the following resources:
- VA Whole Health
- VHA Pain Management Home
- VHA — Chronic Pain 101: How to Break the Cycle
- VHA Complimentary and Integrative Health
- Information on Musculoskeletal Conditions (NIH)
- She Wears the Boots Podcast: Trauma Across the Lifespan
- Arthritis Foundation — Osteoarthritis
- National Institutes of Health — Low Back Pain Fact Sheet
- VA Veterans Health Library — Bone, Joint and Muscle Problems
* By clicking on these links, you will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked Web site.