One hundred and sixty-six patients admitted to general medical wards of a teaching hospital were examined on the day of discharge to determine whether they had been assessed for musculoskeletal disorders during their admission. Of these patients, 54.8% had musculo-skeletal symptoms with 17.5% having a significant rheumatological disorder which had been ignored. A history of musculo-skeletal symptoms was recorded in 40.4% of all patients and the examination in only 14.5%. This contrasted with the documentation of the cardiovascular (99.4%), respiratory (100%), gastrointestinal (97.6%) and central nervous (53%) systems' examination. Eighty per cent of symptomatic patients received either no treatment for their rheumatic disorder, or treatment that we regarded as suboptimal or inappropriate. Musculo-skeletal symptoms are common in patients admitted to medical wards, but are being inadequately assessed or at worst ignored. The omission of the musculo-skeletal system examination, in contrast to the almost universal inclusion of other systems' examination, demands correction. Undergraduate and postgraduate training programmes require re-evaluation. The implications of these findings are discussed.