We investigated the epidemiology of musculoskeletal symptoms (MSS) among a complete cross-section of 330 nurses from a large Korean hospital, by means of a questionnaire survey (response rate: 97.9%). The prevalence of MSS at any body site was 93.6%, with symptoms most commonly reported at the shoulder (74.5%), lower back (72.4%), neck (62.7%), lower legs (52.1%) and hand/wrist (46.7%). Logistic regression indicated that nurses who undertook manual handling of patients were 7.2 times as likely to report MSS (OR 7.2, 95%CI 1.2–42.3, P = .0275), while nurses suffering from periodic depression experienced a 3.3-fold MSS risk (OR 3.3, 95%CI 1.3–8.3, P = .0104). Overall, our study suggests that Korean nurses incur a very high MSS burden when compared internationally. A greater commitment is needed to improve physical conditions, occupational tasks and psychosocial work issues among nurses in this country.