What causes bone pain? 26 possible conditions

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Bone Pain or Tenderness

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.

Causes of Bone Pain

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)
  • infection
  • 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.

Diagnosing the Cause of Bone Pain

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 for Bone Pain

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.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease due to calcium loss. As a result the bones lose strength and density. People are usually unaware that they have the condition until they experience a fracture.

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2

Bone Tumor

Bone tumors are masses of abnormal cells within the bone. Depending on the cause, these tumors may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non cancerous).

Read more »

3

Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)

A bone infection may occur when bacteria or fungi invade the bone, causing many symptoms, including fever, redness, stiffness, and swelling.

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4

Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. Excessive sweating at night, constant fatigue, weight loss, bone pain, and easy bleeding or bruising are all signs of this disease.

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5

Hypercalcemia

Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too much calcium in your blood. Serious cases could cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and weakness.

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6

Rickets

Rickets is a nutritional disorder that can develop if you do not get enough vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets leads to poor functioning of a bone's growth plate (growing edge), softened and weakened bones...

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7

Hyperparathyroidism

In hyperparathyroidism, the parathyroid glands make too much of their hormone. It affects a number of body systems and can cause skin changes, including brittle nails and itching.

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8

Paget's Disease of the Bone

A typical human skeleton consists of 206 bones. Bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. If this process is altered, bones can break down and re-form abnormally and in ways that compromise the integrity o...

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9

Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that tends to develop during growth spurts, typically occurring in the shinbone, thighbone, or upper arm. Some symptoms are swelling and redness.

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10

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects plasma cells, which are the white blood cells that make antibodies. Multiple myeloma causes groups of abnormal plasma cells to accumulate in the bones, which can lead t...

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11

Ewing's Sarcoma

Ewing's sarcoma is a cancerous tumor. It usually begins in or near a bone. The tumors can form on any bone, however, they generally grow on long bones. Common locations include the bones of the upper arm and leg...

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12

Neuroblastoma

The body's nervous system is divided into two main areas: the central nervous system (which includes the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system . The sympathetic nervous system , part of th...

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13

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and blood-forming tissues. There are many types of leukemia, each affecting different kinds of blood cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, is a cancer of th...

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14

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in the blood or blood-forming tissues. There are many different types of leukemia, and treatment is different for each one. Chronic leukemias are slower growing than acut...

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15

Lung Cancer Overview

Learn the types of lung cancer, and read information about lung cancer symptoms, causes and treatments. Continue reading!

Read more »

16

Osteomalacia

Osteomalacia is a weakening of the bones due to problems with bone formation or the bone building process. It is not the same as osteoporosis, which is a weakening of living bone that has already been formed and i...

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17

Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease of the red blood cells (RBCs). Normally RBCs are shaped like a disk. This gives them the flexibility to travel through even the smallest blood vessels. However, in people wit...

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18

Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer that occurs in the blood and the marrow of the bones. Marrow is sponge-like material inside the bones that produces blood cells. AML specifically affects the white blood cells o...

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19

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells rapidly multiply and don't stop reproducing. The disease can develop anywhere in the body. Treatment is based on its location. When it originates in the lungs, it is lung cancer. Ther...

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20

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially fatal contagious disease that can affect almost any part of the body but is mainly an infection of the lungs.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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