What is bone pain?
Bone pain is extreme tenderness, aching, or other discomfort in one or more bones. It differs from muscle and joint pain because it’s present whether you’re moving or not. The pain is commonly linked to diseases that affect the normal function or structure of the bone.
What causes bone pain?
Many conditions and events can lead to bone pain.
Injury is a common cause of bone pain. Typically, this pain arises when a person goes through some form of trauma, such as a car accident or fall. The impact may break or fracture the bone. Any damage to the bone can cause bone pain.
To stay strong, your bones require a variety of minerals and vitamins, including calcium and vitamin D. A deficiency in calcium and vitamin D often leads to osteoporosis, the most common type of bone disease. People in the late stages of osteoporosis often have bone pain.
This is cancer that started somewhere else in the body but spread to other body parts. Cancers of the breast, lung, thyroid, kidney, and prostate are among the cancers that commonly spread to the bones.
Bone cancer describes cancer cells that originate in the bone itself. Bone cancer is much rarer than metastatic bone cancer. It can cause bone pain when the cancer disrupts or destroys the bone’s normal structure.
Diseases that disturb blood supply to bones
Some diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, interfere with the blood supply to the bone. Without a steady source of blood, bone tissue begins to die. This causes significant bone pain and weakens the bone.
If an infection originates in or spreads to the bones, it can cause a serious condition known as osteomyelitis. This infection of the bone can kill bone cells and cause bone pain.
Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow. Bone marrow is found in most bones and is responsible for the production of bone cells. People with leukemia often experience bone pain, especially in the legs.
What are the symptoms?
The most noticeable symptom of bone pain is discomfort whether you’re still or moving.
Other symptoms depend on the particular cause of your bone pain.
Cause of bone pain Other associated symptoms
Injury Swelling, visible breaks or deformities, a snap or grinding noise upon injury
Mineral deficiency Muscle and tissue pain, sleep disturbances, cramps, fatigue, weakness
Osteoporosis Back pain, stooped posture, loss of height over time
Metastatic cancer A large range of symptoms depending on where the cancer has spread that may include headache, chest pain, bone fractures, seizures, dizziness, jaundice, shortness of breath, swelling in the belly
Bone cancer Increased bone breaks, a lump or mass under the skin, numbness or tingling (from when a tumor presses on a nerve)
Disrupted blood supply to the bones Joint pain, loss of joint function, and weakness
Infection Redness, streaks from the infection site, swelling, warmth at the infection site, decreased range of motion, nausea, loss of appetite
Leukemia Fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, night sweats, unexplained weight loss
Bone pain in pregnancy
Pelvic bone pain is a common occurrence for many pregnant women. This pain is sometimes referred to as pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PPGP). Symptoms include pain in the pubic bone and stiffness and pain in the pelvic joints.
PPGP typically doesn’t resolve until after delivery. Early treatment can reduce symptoms, though. Treatment options may include:
manual therapy to move the joints correctly
exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
While common, PPGP is still abnormal. You should contact your doctor for treatment if you experience pelvic pain.
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How is bone pain diagnosed?
A doctor needs to identify the pain’s underlying cause to recommend treatment. Treating the underlying cause can drastically reduce or eliminate your pain.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history. Common questions include:
Where is the pain located?
When did you first experience the pain?
Is the pain getting worse?
Are there any other symptoms that accompany the bone pain?
Your doctor may order blood tests to look for vitamin deficiencies or cancer markers. Blood tests may also help your doctor detect infections and adrenal gland disorders that can interfere with bone health.
Bone X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can help your doctor evaluate the affected area for injuries, bone lesions, and tumors within the bone.
Urine studies can be used to detect abnormalities within the bone marrow, including multiple myeloma.
In some cases, your doctor will need to run multiple tests to rule out certain conditions and to diagnose the exact cause of your bone pain.
How is bone pain treated?
When the doctor has determined the cause of the bone pain, they’ll start treating the underlying cause. They may advise you to rest the affected area as much as possible. They’ll likely prescribe you a pain reliever for moderate to severe bone pain.
If your doctor is unsure of the cause and suspects an infection, they’ll start you on antibiotics. Take the full course of the medication, even if your symptoms go away within a few days. Corticosteroids are also commonly used to reduce inflammation.
The treatment options for bone pain include:
Pain relievers are among the most commonly prescribed medications to reduce bone pain, but they don’t cure the underlying condition. Over-the-counter treatments such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used. Prescription medications such as Paracetamol or morphine may be used for moderate or severe pain.
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If you have a bone infection, your doctor may prescribe powerful antibiotics to kill the germ that’s causing the infection. These antibiotics may include ciprofloxacin, clindamycin, or vancomycin.
People who have osteoporosis need to restore their calcium and vitamin D levels. Your doctor will give you nutritional supplements to treat the mineral deficiency. Supplements are available in liquid, pill, or chewable form.
Find calcium supplements and vitamin D supplements online.
Bone pain caused by cancer is difficult to treat. The doctor will need to treat the cancer to relieve the pain. Common cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy (which can increase bone pain). Bisphosphonates are a type of medication that help prevent bone damage and bone pain in people with metastatic bone cancer. Opiate pain relievers may also be prescribed.
You may need surgery to remove parts of bone that have died due to infection. Surgery may also be required to re-set broken bones and remove tumors caused by cancer. Reconstructive surgery may be used in severe cases where joints can be replaced or substituted.
How can bone pain be prevented?
Maintaining strong, healthy bones makes it easier to avoid bone pain. To maintain optimal bone health, remember to:
maintain a healthy exercise plan
get enough calcium and vitamin D
drink only in moderation
Read more: 8 fast facts about calcium »
Aside from improving bone health, you can also avoid injuries that lead to bone pain. Try to prevent falls by keeping your floors clutter-free and watching for loose rugs or poor lighting. You should also be careful when going up or down the stairs. For sporting activities, especially contact sports like football or boxing, wear proper protective gear.
What happens in recovery?
In many cases, it takes some time to heal the issue causing the bone pain, whether the pain comes from chemotherapy or a fracture.
During recovery, avoid aggravating or bumping the affected areas. This can prevent further injury and pain and allow healing. Rest the affected areas as much as possible and immobilize the area if there’s a risk of further injury.
For some people, aids such as braces, splints, and casts can offer support that can both protect the bone and relieve pain.
When to see a doctor
Serious conditions are often the cause of bone pain. Even mild bone pain may indicate an emergency condition. If you experience unexplained bone pain that doesn’t improve within a few days, consult your doctor.
You should also see a doctor if the bone pain is accompanied by weight loss, decreased appetite, or general fatigue.
Bone pain that results from injury should also prompt a doctor’s visit. Medical treatment is required for fractures from direct trauma to the bone. Without proper treatment, bones can heal in incorrect positions and inhibit movement. Trauma also predisposes you to infection.