Bone Pain

Written by Joseph Pritchard | Published on September 16, 2013

What Is Bone Pain?

Bone pain is described as extreme tenderness, aching, or other discomfort in one or more bones. Bone pain differs from muscle and joint pain because bone pain is present whether you are moving or stationary. 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. Possible causes are:

  • Injury: Injury is a common cause of bone pain. Typically, this pain arises when a person experiences some form of trauma, like a car accident or a fall. The impact may break or fracture the bone. Any damage to the bone due to this injury causes bone pain.
  • Mineral deficiency: Your bones require a variety of minerals and vitamins to stay strong, including calcium and vitamin D. A deficiency in calcium and vitamin D leads to a condition known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease (Medline Plus, 2012). Patients suffering from the late stages of osteoporosis often suffer from bone pain.
  • Metastatic cancer. Metastatic cancer is cancer that started somewhere else in the body but has spread to the bones. Cancers of the breast, lung, thyroid, kidney, and prostate are among the cancers that commonly spread to bone.
  • Bone cancer: Bone cancer describes cancer cells that originate in the bone itself. Bone cancer is much rarer than metastatic bone cancer. Bone cancer can cause bone pain when the cancer disrupts or destroys the bone’s normal structure.
  • Diseases that disturb blood supply to bones: Some diseases interfere with the blood supply to the bone. Without a steady source of blood, bone tissue begins to die. This will cause significant bone pain and weaken the bone. Sickle cell disease is an example of a condition that disrupts blood supply.
  • Infection: If an infection originates or spreads to the bones, it can cause a serious condition called osteomyelitis. An infection of the bone can kill bone cells and cause bone pain. 
  • Leukemia: Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow. Bone marrow is found in most bones and is responsible for the production of bone cells. Patients with leukemia often experience bone pain, especially in the legs.

When to See a Doctor

Serious conditions are often the cause of bone pain. Even mild bone pain may indicate an emergency. If you experience unexplained bone pain that does not improve within a few days, you should consult your doctor.

You should see a doctor if bone pain is accompanied by weight loss, decreased appetite, or general fatigue.

You should also see a doctor if your bone pain is the result of an injury. Direct trauma to the bone that results in a fracture requires medical treatment. Without proper treatment, bones can heal in incorrect positions, which can inhibit movement. Trauma also predisposes you to infection.

How Is Bone Pain Diagnosed?

A doctor will seek to identify your pain’s underlying cause in order to recommend treatment. Treating the underlying cause drastically reduces or eliminates the 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?

You may need to undergo other diagnostic tests. Blood tests, bone X-rays, urine studies, and CT scans can help determine the cause of bone pain.

How Is Bone Pain Treated?

Once the doctor has determined the cause of the bone pain, you can begin treatment. Treatment options include:

  • Pain relievers: Pain relievers are among the most commonly prescribed medications to reduce pain, but they do not cure the underlying condition.
  • Antibiotics: If you are suffering from a bone infection, your doctor may prescribe powerful antibiotics that can kill the germ causing the infection.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery to remove the parts of bone that have died due to infection.
  • Nutritional supplements: Patients suffering from osteoporosis need to restore their calcium and vitamin D levels. Your doctor will give you nutritional supplements that should treat the mineral deficiency.
  • Cancer treatments: Bone pain caused by cancer is difficult to treat. The doctor will need to treat the cancer in order to relieve the pain. Common cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Bisphosphates are a type of medication that helps prevent bone damage and bone pain in patients with metastatic bone cancer.
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