The 10 Most Common Bone Diseases

Bone diseases are very common in the general population, especially in a society in which the population is increasingly aging. Meet with us the most representative pathologies of this group.
The 10 Most Common Bone Diseases
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 07 March, 2023

The musculoskeletal system is made up of the osteoarticular system (bones, joints and ligaments) and the muscular system (muscles and tendons). Thanks to them, we are able to relate to the environment immediately, as we can move in three-dimensional space and respond to environmental stimuli. Unfortunately, there are certain common bone diseases that make it difficult for them to function.

Musculoskeletal disorders are common and affect millions of people around the world. In this article, we’ll show you the 10 most common bone diseases and how to detect them before they become chronic.

What are the most common bone diseases?

Bones have many uses in the human body: they support soft tissues, protect internal organs, allow us to move, and are an excellent reservoir of nutrients. An adult’s body contains approximately 1 kilogram of calcium and 99% of it is found in the bone structure.

However, there are several diseases that can disrupt the bones’ functionality and their ability to perform movements. The World Health Organization (WHO) includes this group of pathologies within musculoskeletal disorders and provides us with the following worldwide data:

  • Approximately 1.710 million people have musculoskeletal disorders worldwide. More than 150 diseases affect the locomotor system, whether they’re muscular, bone, or both.
  • Among all these conditions, low back pain or lumbago is the most common. This pathology affects 568 million people and is the main cause of disability in 160 countries.
  • These disorders limit mobility and the ability to perform daily activities. For this reason, they’re one of the most important causes of a lack of well-being and early retirements.
  • The prevalence of these conditions is on the rise and is expected to continue to rise. This is mainly due to the aging population.

With these data, we get an idea of how serious musculoskeletal disorders are globally. Here are the 10 most common bone diseases and how to detect them early on.

1. Low back pain or lumbago

The most common bone diseases include low back pain.
Low back pain is quite common, and is usually associated with a large number of pathologies. However, in a significant proportion of patients there is no specific cause.

As we have said, lumbago affects more than 560 million inhabitants around the world. This is defined as severe rheumatic pain that affects the bones and muscles of the lower back. According to studies, 84% of the world population will have at least 1 episode of low back pain in their lifetime.

Although it isn’t a bone condition as such, it should be noted that it affects the back ligaments, which is considered part of the osteoarticular system. This condition usually leads to muscle spasms and a strain or tear in the lower back, although it’s difficult to find a specific cause. More than 90% of cases are idiopathic (there’s no clear trigger).

Acute low back pain can last for several weeks, but is not considered chronic until it exceeds the 3-month symptom barrier.

2. Osteoporosis

The United States National Library of Medicine defines osteoporosis as a disease that thins and weakens the bones. In patients with this condition, bone structures become fragile and break easily, which favors the breakdown of vital supports during falls and accidents.

The annual incidence of this condition is estimated at 1% in women over 65, 2% in women over 75, and 3% in women over 85 years of age. On the other hand, it’s estimated that in the United States alone, 10 million inhabitants suffer from this condition, while another 34 million are at risk. All this data make osteoporosis one of the most common bone diseases.

Low calcium intake is a very important trigger of osteoporosis. If the body doesn’t have enough of this mineral, it resorts to destroying the bone to obtain it. Hormonal imbalances during menopause are also prime suspects, and therefore much more common in women (twice as many as in men).

According to the WHO, the prevalence of this condition reaches 30% of elderly Caucasian women.

3. Stress fractures

Stress fractures are small cracks in the bones. Their cause lies in exertion in a specific part of the body, which usually derives from exercising or from certain postures at work. However, some diseases (such as osteoporosis) can also favor its appearance.

These types of injuries are much more common in the lower extremities, as they bear the weight of the entire body. The most common symptom is the appearance of sensitivity in an area (especially the feet) that decreases during rest and worsens with physical exercise.

The incidence of this condition reaches 6% in some specific groups, such as athletes or workers with a very physical job.

4. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, but it shouldn’t be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, and other conditions that affect the joints. Unlike these other pathologies, this condition is usually attributed to the passage of time and the natural degradation of cartilage.

In this condition, the cartilage of the joints is damaged by mechanical stress when moving and straining and, in the end, it’s unable to fulfill its functionality. This can be triggered by many factors, including congenital bone malformations, being overweight, damage to peripheral nerves, a lack of coordination in movement, and loss of muscle strength, among others.

It’s estimated that more than 250 million people (3.6% of the world population) have osteoarthritis in the knee, while the same condition in the hip affects 0.85% of the inhabitants of the Earth. As studies indicate, this condition is inherently associated with old age and 80% of people over 65 have signs of it even if they don’t present symptoms.

As the population is getting older, the prevalence of this condition increases. It is one of the most common bone diseases.

5. Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis manifests itself with pain and inflammation in the joints and adjacent bones (like all cases of this type), but there are considerable differences with respect to the osteoarthritis described above. In this disease, the immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, causing inflammation and destruction of the cartilage.

Over time, immune-mediated bone erosion causes joint deformity, giving patients the so-called “hook fingers.” It’s significantly more serious than osteoarthritis, as it can also cause damage to other parts of the body (lung diseases, lymphomas, eye symptoms, and more).

The prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis ranges between 0.3 and 1.2% of the population. It’s also more common in older people, but its numbers are lower than those of osteoarthritis.

6. Scoliosis

Scoliosis is one of the most common bone diseases in the world, but few people know its nature. The Mayo Clinic defines this condition as a ‘lateral curvature of the spine that occurs most frequently during the growth period before puberty ‘. Around 3% of children and young people suffer from this pathology even if they don’t know it.

It’s estimated that 65% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, that is, they don’t have an exact cause. Around 15% are congenital in nature and the remaining 10% respond to a diagnosed neuromuscular disease, such as polymyositis or rhabdomyolysis.

Although it seems only to be a bone condition, a curved spine can cause intestinal constipation, pain in the trunk area, respiratory and cardiac difficulties, and limitation of movement. The severity of the symptoms depends on the curvature of the spine and this also determines the possible treatment.

Scoliosis affects 2-3% of the world’s population. The prevalence is the same in men and women and the average age of its development is 10-15 years.

7. Bone cancer

Bone cancer is rare, but it must be named in every list that includes the most common bone diseases. However, it’s necessary to emphasize that this group of neoplasms only refers to tumors that originate primarily in bone tissue. Cancers that have metastasized to the skeleton don’t count, as they’re secondary extensions of other tumors.

As indicated by the US News Health portal, this type of cancer represents less than 1% of all neoplasms diagnosed each year. Even so, it’s estimated that in the United States alone about 3,600 cases are diagnosed and 2,000 people die from this type of cancer each year. The survival rate for all stages and types combined after 5 years after diagnosis is 78%.

Removal of the bone tumor by surgery is always the first step. Sometimes amputation of the entire affected limb is necessary.

8. Bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Among the most common bone diseases is osteomyelitis
Osteomyelitis can become long-lasting and difficult to treat. Sometimes hospitalization to comply with intravenous antibiotic treatment is important.

A bone infection is a difficult condition to treat that requires long-term medical attention. This condition is generally caused by certain bacteria (staphylococci), but fungi are also capable of causing them. Pathogens reach the bone tissue through the bloodstream, entering through injuries or through contaminated material during surgery.

The most common symptoms of a bone infection are fever, swelling, redness, warmth to the touch, pain in the area of infection, and general fatigue. It’s usually necessary to drain the infected area and, sometimes, bone tissue that has been irreversibly damaged must be removed. Once the causative pathogen is detected, an antibiotic treatment is started with an average duration of 6 weeks.

9. Spinal stenosis

This is another of the most common bone diseases related to the spine, just like scoliosis and low back pain. In this case, the spinal canal (which protects and allows passage to the spinal cord) reduces its diameter, which causes the nerves of the trunk to be pinched. Symptoms are slow onset and improve when leaning forward.

The causes of this pathology are multiple: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal tumors, mechanical trauma, and many more. Due to its multiple etiology and the fragility of the spinal column, it’s estimated that spinal stenosis is present in up to 8% of the world population.

The most common symptom is pain when standing (in 94% of cases), but this condition also brings discomfort in the arms, hands and elbows, bilateral symptoms, sensation of “asleep” limbs and lack of motor coordination. It all depends on where the nerve impingement occurs and the severity of each condition.

10. Gout

This is another of the most common bone diseases that experts include with arthritic-type disorders. Worldwide, the reported prevalence of this pathology ranges from 0.1 to 10% of the general population, and is always greater than 1% in high-income countries (especially Europe and North America).

The incidence and prevalence of gout increase with age, affecting up to 13% of people over 80 years of age. In more than half of the cases, the bone structure most affected is the joint at the base of the big toe. This causes very localized pain, swelling, and difficulty stepping on the ground without pain.

Unlike rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, gout is caused by too high levels of uric acid in the blood. These are deposited in the form of crystals in the joints, tendons, and bone attachments, which causes the aforementioned symptoms. A poor diet, previous health problems, and genetic predisposition are the main suspects.

Rheumatoid arthritis is of autoimmune origin, osteoarthritis happens over time and gout occurs due to the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints.

The most common bone diseases and their importance

As you can see, few of the pathologies mentioned here are limited only to the bones themselves. Bone infections, bone cancer, and stress fractures are pathologies that occur in bone tissue per se, but most of the diseases on this list also affect the joints and cartilage.

Together with low back pain, arthritic conditions could be considered the most common musculoskeletal disorders worldwide. After all, the degradation of the joints leads to friction between bones, and this also manifests itself skeletally. At the end of the day, a disease “of the bones” will be any that affects the skeletal system.

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