Musculoskeletal health in the Black community

Afro woman Suffering pain on hands and fingers, arthritis inflammation

One of my patients came to my office complaining of swollen joints, pain in the joints, morning stiffness, and fatigue. Following an examination, and a referral for x-rays, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was referred back to the family physician to set up an appointment with a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist confirmed the diagnosis after further examination and blood tests.

This patient began a course of medication prescribed by the rheumatologist, and continued therapy at our clinic to improve her flexibility and strength. However, for many black patients, the road to recovery is not easy due to health inequity.

Health inequity is defined as the differences in health status or in the distribution of health resources between different population groups. We know that many factors, including race, affect how healthy a person is. This is evident in the health outcomes for Black people with regards to diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, mental health, asthma, etc. As a chiropractor, I am interested in the disparities among Black populations with respect to musculoskeletal diseases.

What is the Musculoskeletal System?

Musculoskeletal basically means muscles and bones. The musculoskeletal system is an important framework of the body made up of muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones, and the blood vessels that supply these structures. These tissues and organs provide our body with support, stability, protection, flexibility and movement.

What is Musculoskeletal Diseases?

Any condition that affects the muscles, tendons, bones, can be considered a musculoskeletal disease. The most common musculoskeletal diseases are arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis. These conditions usually cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and weakness in the muscles and joints. These common diseases are often caused by poor ergonomics, sedentary lifestyle, poor health habits, poor nutrition, and inadequate recovery following strenuous activities. Other types of musculoskeletal conditions include fractures, scoliosis, and infections.

Osteoarthritis pain

Musculoskeletal Disease and the Black Community

There is a lack of race-based data collection in Canada when it comes to health care inequities, but there has been an improvement in recent years. Research in the United States has shown that Non-Hispanic African Americans and people with low family income had a significantly higher risk for rheumatoid arthritis (J Clin Med. 2021 Aug; 10(15): 3289.). In another study, researchers found that a type of inflammatory arthritis, called spondyloarthritis, affects Black people differently because of racial disparities ( November 18, 2020). It was found that Blacks not only faced a delay in receiving a diagnosis, but they also experienced a delay in treatment for this type of arthritis, and this placed them at higher risk for developing complications from the disease.  In addition, some studies have revealed that Blacks in the US have a higher risk of developing arthritis in the knees and spine (, October 21, 2011)

Changes in the Health Care System

There are many associations, advocacy groups, and health care providers that are working with the Black community and community partners to address the disparities in health care, and develop strategies to solve these issues.

Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of the spine, muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and nerves.  If you are experiencing musculoskeletal pain or discomfort, see your chiropractor or physician for an evaluation that can lead to an early diagnosis and advanced treatment options.

An interesting Black history fact about chiropractic:

In September 1895, the first chiropractic patient was a black entrepreneur named Harvey J. Lillard, who was treated by chiropractor, Daniel David Palmer.

Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at

Stop the Pain … Before it Stops You!