Bone pain can be uncomfortable and debilitating. Bones are the building blocks of your body, so it’s important to work out if bone pain is the reason for your pain as you don’t want to have an issue with your foundations. If you look at a skeleton you’ll see how the bones form a tight-knit structure. If one is missing, your body would fall into a soft, pulpy mess – it’s a bit like the frame of a building. Bones give you the strength you need.
Most people are aware of what are called the long bones of the body (although they’re not always very long). Your typical long bone is your arm bone or humerus. Then you have two smaller forearm bones, the radius and the ulna. You have your big thigh bones (femur) and leg bones (tibia) which are the weight-bearing bones, and the fibula, which is the thinner, smaller one that provides a lot of attachments to muscles.
Bones don’t just provide structure to hold the ‘frame’ up, they form the places where your muscles can attach to give you the ability to move.
In medical terms, a broken bone is called a fracture. A fracture can result from sudden force or stress on the bone, repetitive stress over a period of time or a single incident of prolonged stress. It’s easy to break a bone, for example, through a heavy fall.
Stress fractures are less common and repetitive stress is usually at the root of this problem. Small but frequent forces over time are enough to cause micro breaks in the bone, or micro fractures, which result in pain. They often happen in the footfrom the impact of the foot on the ground, particularly the third long bone in the foot.
Other fractures occur from small bits of bone breaking off when a muscle is working so strongly that thetendon pulls hard on a projecting bit of bone it attaches to. This fractures the small projection off and is known as an avulsion fracture.
In most cases it’s quite easy to see a broken bone on an x-ray. If someone has a fracture and it doesn’t show up on x-ray immediately after an injury – but the cause of injury and symptoms suggest that it’s likely the bone was fractured – we’ll advise having another x-ray if it’s still very painful after two weeks, as there may have been a hairline fracture that isn’t immediately evident on x-ray.
Often a force will cause damage to the outer core of the bone. To explain that better, imagine the bone is a bit like a piece of chalk. Sometimes I liken it to a chewy bubblegum with a soft centre. The soft core is the bone marrow. If you’ve had a roast dinner, you’ll probably have seen that the bone has a soft reddish part inside it – that’s the marrow. Some of you might even like to eat the marrow and its hard outer core. This is typical of a long bone. If the hard outer part breaks, that’s what becomes evident on an x-ray, particularly if the break means that the pieces of the bone become misaligned so that they’re not in the usual position – one part is displaced relative to the other. That’s really obvious on an x-ray.
If it’s not out of alignment, detection is more difficult. Often it’s easier for these fractures to heal because the bone doesn’t have to be put in the right place. That is, it can grow back more easily because it’s already in the perfect position.
You can also get pain from bruising to bones. Unlike a fracture, it’s not always easy to see a bone bruise on an x-ray. Bone bruises also come from force on bone,but these are less evident.