Each year in October, the United States Bone and Joint Initiative promotes Bone and Joint Health Awareness Week, which is focused on educating the general public about musculoskeletal (bone and joint) conditions. As a leading cause of chronic pain and physical disability worldwide, bone and joint disease affects almost half of the nation’s population in the form of arthritis, osteoporosis, back, knee and hip pain, and muscle and ligament injuries.
In this article, you’ll find Bone & Joint disease facts, causes and risk factors, the different types of bone and joint diseases, and ways of prevention and treatment. The only way to improve our health is to spread awareness and make strides towards changing statistics!
- More than half the American population over the age of 18 (54%) are affected by musculoskeletal (bone and joint) conditions, according to The Burden of Musculoskeletal Conditions in the United States.
- 1 in 3 (33%) people over the age of 18 require medical care for a musculoskeletal condition yearly
- 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will likely suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their life.
- Bone and joint conditions are the most common cause of severe long-term pain andphysical disability worldwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people.
- Musculoskeletal conditions include back pain, arthritis, traumatic injuries, osteoporosis, spinal deformity, and childhood conditions.
- Musculoskeletal conditions can lead to significant disability plus diminished productivity and quality of life.
- Research funding is currently less than 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health annual budget, and continues to decline each year despite the high costs associated with injuries, arthritis, and back pain.
- Without greater awareness and intervention, the global presence of bone and joint disease is predicted to dramatically increase, which will lead to even greater healthcare costs and a reduction in productivity.
Causes and Risk Factors
- Age, occupation, activity level, environmental factors and genetics all play a role in bone disease risk.
- People who work on their feet all the time, or whose jobs involve heavy labor are at higher risk of bone conditions.
- Low sun exposure and low vitamin D also contribute.
- Too little physical activity puts people at risk for osteoporosis, so highly inactive people may be more vulnerable to fractures.
- Osteoarthritis is on the rise, particularly when it involves weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. As the obesity epidemic continues, there is a greater risk in developing osteoarthritis.
- Family history, being of middle age, smoking and being a woman increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Environmental factors like being exposed to asbestos may also contribute.
How and when bone pain occurs, or subtle changes in how joints look and feel, can help indicate which type of condition you might have:
- Joint stiffness (arthritis).
- Decreased range of motion (arthritis).
- Decreased joint function (arthritis).
- Bumps on small finger joints (osteoarthritis).
- Soft, warm, painful swelling of both wrists and hands, in large knuckles (rheumatoid arthritis).
- Persistent morning joint stiffness (rheumatoid arthritis).
- Fatigue and whole-body symptoms (rheumatoid arthritis).
- Bone or joint pain with activity (overuse injury).
- Gradual loss of height or stooped posture (osteoporosis).
- Unexplained back pain (osteoporosis).
- A shoulder or hip that’s higher than the other (scoliosis).
- Leg-length discrepancy (various conditions).
If you have any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical attention to get diagnosed!
Diagnosis starts with a medical history and physical examination. Doctors won’t just examine the joint or area that’s causing you issues– It’s a complete musculoskeletal exam. They’ll look for modifiable risk factors like alignment, muscle imbalance or muscle weakness, and limb length.
Imaging tests such as X-rays, MIR and ultrasound help determine a condition’s severity. Your doctor may order blood tests that indicate inflammatory processes, as with rheumatoid arthritis. A bone density scan called a DEXA scan is used to evaluate osteoporosis.
Depending on your medical exam findings and test results, your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist, like an orthopedist, rheumatologist or occupational therapist to confirm the diagnosis and recommend treatment.
Types of Disease
Bone Disease Types
Common bone diseases in adults and children include the following:
- Osteoporosis. One of the most prevalent bone conditions, osteoporosis involves bone loss, leading to weakened bones that are more likely to break. Osteoporosis is an invisible condition, often doing its damage without people realizing they have it. More than 53 million people in the U.S. either have osteoporosis or are at high risk for developing it, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
- Metabolic bone diseases. These are disorders of bone strength caused by mineral or vitamin deficiencies (such as vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus) that result in abnormal bone mass or structure. Here are a few examples:
- Osteomalacia (softening of the bones)
- Hyperparathyroidism (overactive gland leading to bone calcium loss)
- Paget disease of bone (abnormally large, weakened bones)
- Developmental Bone Disorders affecting children
- Fracture. Acute fractures are usually due to trauma. Children’s bones are more flexible and resilient, and fractures heal more quickly. Kids are more likely to have wrist fractures while breaking a fall during sports or at play., while older adults are more vulnerable to falls and hip injuries because of balance issues. As their bones may be more fragile, they are likelier to break their hips.
- Stress fracture. Also called overuse fractures, stress fractures are more common in active people like runners.
- Scoliosis. Abnormal, side-to-side curvature of the spine, resulting in an S- or C-shaped appearance when seen from behind, is called scoliosis. It’s commonly diagnosed in infants or children, but can persist into adulthood.
Joint Disease Types
Arthritis is a leading cause of disability worldwide. By 2040, nearly 80 million U.S. adults will have some form of arthritis diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis falls into two basic categories: osteoarthritis and autoimmune joint disease. They have contrasting causes and symptoms and require different care.
Common joint conditions include the following:
- Osteoarthritis. The most common type, osteoarthritis is the “wear-and-tear” form that increases with age. Cartilage that normally cushions the joint breaks down over time, leading to stiffness and pain, especially with movement. With hip arthritis and knee arthritis, walking becomes more difficult as pain builds and flexibility decreases. Adults in their 50s and older are more likely to develop this chronic, progressive disease, and women are most vulnerable.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition affect the lining of the joints. Cells of the immune system that normally don’t belong in the joints accumulate there in large numbers. As the immune cells interact with the local joint cells, it causes ever-increasing inflammation, with eventual damage and destruction of cartilage and bone.
- Spondyloarthritis. Also known as spondylitis, this umbrella term covers certain other rheumatoid diseases.
- Axial spondylitis (inflammation in the spine)
- Enteropathic Arthritis (complication of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis)
- Psoriatic arthritis (associated with the skin condition psoriasis, tends to affect the joints of the hands and feet.)
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Or, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. JIA is the most common chronic joint condition in kids. In this autoimmune condition, the child’s immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue. It’s called “idiopathic” because the cause is unknown. Inflammation from JIA may affect the muscles, joints, ligaments, internal organs and even the eyes. An added concern is that JIA can alter children’s normal growth.
- Lupus. This autoimmune condition affects various parts of the body, including the skin, internal organs, blood, brain, bones and joints. Inflammation caused by lupus can trigger arthritis, particularly in the hands, elbows, shoulders, knees and feet.
- Bursitis. Bursitis involves inflammation of the small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae that cushion the joints and surrounding tendons, muscles and bone. With bursitis, overuse or sudden injury of joints such as the hip, elbow and shoulder can lead to flare-ups. Bacterial infections can sometimes cause bursitis as well.
How to Prevent
Bone and Joint disease does not have to be inevitable. Here are some simple steps you can take to help keep your bones and joints healthy:
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess weight, even just a few pounds, can significantly increase the stress on your hard-working joints.
- Be active. Physical activity can help you maintain your bone density as you age. Additionally, exercise can help you keep your joints limber, control your weight and improve your balance, all of which can help you avoid bone and joint injuries resulting from slips and falls.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Your bones need sufficient calcium, as well as vitamin D, which helps your body to absorb this essential nutrient. Supplements can be useful as well, since you can always get your nutrition from whole food sources.
- Seek medical attention for bone or joint pain. Many musculoskeletal conditions can be addressed without surgery. Conservative options like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, pain relievers, hot/cold therapy and joint injections can be very effective. Additionally, in rare cases, bone or joint pain can be a sign of a serious health condition, such as multiple myeloma or osteosarcoma (bone cancer), so it’s always best to get an accurate diagnosis from an experienced medical professional.
Treatment takes different directions for each condition. For instance, Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured. But it can be treated with medicine, that most patients respond well to. If the medication is removed, the arthritis can, or will come back. For osteoarthritis, drug treatment is not as effective. Surgical replacement of large joints, such as hip replacement or knee replacement, is needed in some cases. Surgery is to be considered when pain is intractable, function is compromised, and when nonsurgical treatment has failed. Chronic management for joint or bone pain starts with over-the-counter or prescription oral medications, and topical ointments, gels or sprays. Nerve-related pain medication might be needed for systemic bone or joint conditions. It might seem counterintuitive, but physical activity is important for treating and managing conditions like arthritis and preventing complications of being sedentary. Specific exercises, particularly resistance-training exercises, improve strength around the joints. With osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercise activity is a key treatment.
Having a bone or joint disease doesn’t need to affect your quality of life. Seeing an exercise specialist to find the proper physical activity for you, modifying activities, using assistive devices as needed and following a healthy lifestyle can help keep you mobile and independent!