Background: A short questionnaire on functional status was designed for use in community-based outcome studies and in the management of individual patients who have musculoskeletal disease. As most musculoskeletal care is delivered in community practices, short, validated instruments are necessary to perform clinical studies on the effectiveness of treatment in this setting. Methods: A forty-six-item questionnaire was created as an extension of the work to develop the longer, 101-item Musculoskeletal Function Assessment (MFA) questionnaire. The Short Musculoskeletal Function Assessment (SMFA) questionnaire consists of the dysfunction index, which has thirty-four items for the assessment of patient function, and the bother index, which has twelve items for the assessment of how much patients are bothered by functional problems. The SMFA questionnaire was evaluated for reliability, validity, and responsiveness in a population of 420 patients who had a musculoskeletal disease or injury. Results: The SMFA questionnaire demonstrated excellent internal consistency and stability, with most values greater than 0.90. Content validity for the dysfunction and bother indexes was supported with very little skew (less than 1.00), few ceiling effects (less than 5 percent), and no floor effects. Convergent validity was supported with significant correlations between the SMFA dysfunction and bother indexes and the physicians' ratings of patient function (for example, activities of daily living, recreational and leisure activities, and emotional function [rho ≥ 0.40]) and standard clinical measures (for example, grip strength and walking speed [r ≥ 0.40]). Convergent and discriminant construct validity of the SMFA indexes were demonstrated (p < 0.01) in comparisons with clinical, demographic, Short Form-36 (SF-36), and life-change data. The responsiveness of the SMFA questionnaire to change over time was demonstrated with standardized response means ranging from moderate (0.76) to large (-1.14) for patients who had changes in health status. Conclusions: The SMFA questionnaire may be used for clinical assessments of the impact of treatment in groups of patients who have musculoskeletal disease or injury. It also may be used in clinical settings to provide reliable and valid assessments of the health status of an individual patient.