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Life as a medical student: MSK anatomy

vicky hargest medical pre-medical studentMedical student Vicky Hargest talks about the 600 bones in the human body, and why this module is not just about broken legs and hip replacements.

“The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” If only musculoskeletal (MSK) anatomy was that simple.

If I had known how much Latin and Greek would be used in MSK anatomy, I would have considered taking a part-time language course. There are muscles that most have heard of such as the biceps and the gluteus maximus, however in total there are over 600 skeletal muscles in the body. Each has an origin and insertion and numerous associated ligaments and tendons.

It soon became evident that some muscles are more clinically important than others, whilst others just have interesting names; sternocleidomastoid in the neck, trapezius in the back and sartorius and gastrocnemius in the thigh and leg. It’s a good job a true anatomist didn’t branch out into writing limericks as “the acetabulum articulates with head of femur” isn’t quite so catchy!

MSK disorders

Once the anatomy was somewhat understood, I found that other aspects of the MSK module were not too difficult. This was partly because we had already covered breakdown and formation of bone along with the physiology of muscle contraction during the first year. Clinical case studies presented in the lectures also helped to put the subject into context. What I did not appreciate was just how much MSK disorders affect quality of life.

As medical students we tend to focus on the causes of disease, the clinical signs presented, diagnostic techniques and even the pharmacology of drug treatment. This module has provided a different perspective on a set of disorders which are often overlooked because they are rarely life threatening.

A lay person’s view may be that damaged muscles, bones and joints are problems just for the elderly or the careless which can easily be solved. A hip replacement here, a plaster cast there, or a bit of physiotherapy. The reality is that there are no quick fixes for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and muscular dystrophies to name but a few. These progressive diseases can reduce life expectancy, increase disability and dependency and have wider social and economic implications.

Having an awareness of some of the wider implications of chronic MSK disorders will certainly allow me to have more empathy with patients that I encounter throughout my career. With the majority of complaints presented to General Practice being MSK related it will be system that I will meet again and again regardless of the area in which I decide to specialise.

About Vicky

Vicky Hargest is a medical student at the University of Sheffield. Although she has an arts degree (health studies) she has taken the pre-med route (six year course) in order to learn foundation sciences.

She is the first in her family to enter higher education - proving that medicine is for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Having worked in medical education for the last six years she is now seeing things from the other side of the fence.

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