Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders are injuries that affect the body’s muscles, bones, and joints. Lower back pain is one of the most predominant MSK disorders in working class Americans, especially in service workers, craftsmen, operatives, and laborers (1). This pain is defined as a non-traumatic MSK disorder affecting the low back, including lumbar disk problems and sciatica, and not caused by injuries, other diseases, or cervical spine problems (e.g., neck pain) (2). While the prevalence of lower back pain in working Americans is well known, little data has been collected on the prevalence of MSK disorders in medical students.

In a study quantifying the musculoskeletal ailments that 4th year medical students suffer in a medical school in Mainland China, information was obtained from 207 students using an updated Standardized Nordic Questionnaire, a questionnaire that allows for comparison of neck, shoulder, lower back and general complaints amongst a sample (3). Approximately one-third of subjects reported that they suffered from an ongoing MSK disorder, the most common region affected being the lower back (40.1%), followed by neck pain (33.8%) and shoulder pain (21.7%). The study concluded that time spent doing deskwork or on the computer is likely a contributing factor to the high prevalence of MSK disorders in this medical student population (3).

With the high prevalence of back, neck, and shoulder pain in medical students, it is important for this population to be informed regarding exercises that may mitigate such disorders. A systematic review concluded that there is a positive therapeutic effect of yoga in individuals who suffer from chronic spinal pain (4). The authors of this review highlight how certain yoga positions correct vertebral curvatures and strengthen the thoracic, abdominal, and respiratory muscles needed to maintain a proper posture. Yoga, therefore, can be an effective preventative measure and treatment for medical students who may be predisposed to back and neck pain (4). In fact, one of the authors of this review teaches UK medical students about the benefits of yoga. In light of these findings, it is important for medical students to be aware of their bodies while studying and engage in physical activities that deter the onset of MSK disorders.


  1. Vällfors, B. (1984). Acute, subacute and chronic low back pain: clinical symptoms, absenteeism and working environment. Scandinavian journal of rehabilitation medicine. 11: 1-98.
  2. Punnett LR, Prüss-Üstün A, Nelson DI, et al. (2005). Estimating the global burden of low back pain attributable to combined occupational exposures. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 48(6): 459–469
  3. Smith DR, Wei N, Ishitake T, et al. (2005). Musculoskeletal disorders among Chinese medical students. Kurume Med J. 52(4):139-46.
  4. Crow EM, Jeannot E, Trewhela A. (2015). Effectiveness of Iyengar yoga in treating spinal (back and neck) pain: A systematic review. Int J Yoga 8(1): 3–14.

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