Acute musculoskeletal pain in the emergency department: a review of the literature and implications for the advanced practice nurse

AACN Clin Issues. 2005 Jul-Sep;16(3):310-9. doi: 10.1097/00044067-200507000-00005.


Acute pain assessment and management and their accurate documentation have been identified by The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organization as significant components of the emergency department experience. Research studies have historically focused on the subjective perception of the physician or nurse for evidence of acute musculoskeletal pain assessment for the patient; however, the lack of interrater reliability between caregivers and patients has illustrated the need to evaluate the patient's perception of pain. A review of the literature for acute musculoskeletal pain in the emergency department shows that a patient's pain experience is often underestimated, and severity of pain often does not predict pain management. Relying on patient satisfaction surveys as a surrogate marker for effectiveness of pain management is inadequate, and factors, such as age, gender, or ethnicity, may contribute to a disparity in pain management. The purpose of this article is to review pain management practices for patients with acute musculoskeletal pain who present to the emergency department and to provide recommendations for advanced practice nurses working with this emergency department patient population. Promising areas for future research include targeting mechanisms of pain with specific medications, identifying vulnerable populations at risk for inadequate pain management, and universal use of a standardized pain rating scale.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Age Factors
  • Analgesia / methods
  • Analgesia / nursing
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Emergency Nursing / organization & administration*
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Emergency Treatment / nursing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases* / therapy
  • Nurse Clinicians / organization & administration
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Assessment / methods
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Measurement / nursing*
  • Pain* / diagnosis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal