Bone pain, tenderness, or achiness is a common problem, particularly among those who are middle aged or older. As you age, your body undergoes many changes. Muscle size and bone density generally decrease as you become less active, making you more prone to overuse injury and bone fractures. You can lower your chances of fractures and stress injuries by regularly performing low-impact exercises.
While bone pain is most likely due to decreased bone density or an injury to your bone, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. Bone pain or tenderness can be the result of infection, an interruption in the blood supply, or cancer. These conditions require immediate medical attention. If you have unexplained bone pain, do not ignore it. Make an appointment with your doctor to find out why.
Bone pain can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, including:
- a bone fracture (break)
- overuse or repetitive movement injury
- hormone deficiency (usually due to menopause)
- bone cancer
- metastatic malignancy (cancer that has spread from the point of origin)
- leukemia (cancer of blood cells)
- interruption in the blood supply (as in sickle cell anemia, for example)
Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bone mass is reduced below what is considered normal. Age, hormonal changes, and lack of physical activity are factors that contribute to decreasing bone density. This can increase your likelihood of developing bone fractures and suffering bone pain.
If you have bone pain for no obvious reason, or if you have previously been treated for cancer, you should consult with your physician.
In addition to your complete medical history, including previously diagnosed conditions, your doctor will want to know the specifics of your bone pain, such as
- the location of your pain
- when your pain began
- the level of pain and whether or not it is increasing
- if your pain changes with your activities
- what other symptoms you may have
Depending on the specifics of your pain, as well as a thorough physical examination, additional testing may include
- X-rays of the bone that hurts (to identify breaks, fractures, and abnormalities)
- diagnostic imaging including computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or bone scan of the affected area or your entire body (to identify tumors or other abnormalities)
- blood studies
- urine studies
- hormone level studies
- pituitary and adrenal gland function studies
Treatment will vary according to your diagnosis. Any bone fractures or breaks must be addressed. If you are found to have any underlying conditions, such as osteoporosis or cancer, you will require a long-term treatment plan specific to that diagnosis.
Prescription medications may include
- drugs to relieve inflammation
- antibiotics, if you have an infection
- hormones, if you have a hormone imbalance
- pain relievers
For patients with cancer, complementary therapies include acupuncture, massage, and relaxation techniques.
Physical therapy or regular exercise can help you to feel better and increase your strength and stamina, while also increasing your bone mass. The following list suggests exercises that might help alleviate bone pain from specific causes:
- low back pain: Stretching, walking, swimming, bicycling, and light strength training can ease lower back pain.
- osteoporosis: Osteoporosis causes your bones to lose density and become weak and brittle, increasing your chances of bone fractures. Exercising several times a week can help build strength. Walking, treadmill, climbing stairs, dancing, swimming, and bicycling are recommended. Working with light weights can also help build strength.
- osteoarthritis: If you have arthritis, it may be tempting to avoid exercise, but that is unwise. Exercise helps to keep your joints flexible and can reduce pain in the long run. A balanced exercise regimen of stretching, walking, swimming, and bicycling can help. Avoid exercises that put stress on your joints, such as running, competitive sports, and aerobics.
- joint replacement: If you’ve had a total joint replacement, avoid placing too much stress on the joint. Swimming and bicycling are good choices.
Before beginning an exercise regimen for bone pain, check with your doctor. High-impact exercises can aggravate some conditions.