Our bones are remarkable living tissues that are constantly rebuilding and changing throughout our lives. They serve us well, from helping us move to giving us shape. But it’s easy to take our bones for granted—that is, until they cause pain or other problems. Below are a few of the most common problems that can affect the skeletal system. Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to thin and weaken, increasing the risk of fractures. This sneaky bone disease affects millions of Americans but many may not realize they have it. That’s because osteoporosis is a “silent” disease—it causes no symptoms. In fact, the first sign of osteoporosis may be a hip or spine fracture following a simple bump or fall. All adults naturally lose bone mass as they age. But some people are at greater risk for bone loss than others. For example, women who have gone through menopause as well as both men and women with a family history of osteoporosis have a greater risk. If you are concerned about osteoporosis, talk with your doctor. There are proven ways to prevent and treat osteoporosis, including exercising, getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and taking medications. Just like tumors can grow in other areas of the body, they can also occur in the bone. Although not every bone tumor is cancerous, unfortunately some are. Cancer that begins in the bone is called primary bone cancer and can metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body. There are a number of different primary bone cancers but the most common is multiple myeloma. This cancer affects the bone marrow. Not all people with bone cancer will develop symptoms. But some experience a dull, achy pain in the area of the tumor that can wake them at night. Tumors can also weaken the bone, which increases the risk of fracture. There are many treatment options for bone cancer, including medications, chemotherapy, radiation, and sometimes surgery. If you are diagnosed with bone cancer, your treatment plan will be tailored to your unique condition. Osteogenesis Imperfecta Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease, is a rare genetic disorder that causes the bones to be fragile and break easily. In fact, someone with severe OI may endure hundreds of fractures throughout their lifetime. OI is caused by a gene mutation. As a result, people afflicted with OI are born with the disorder and have it throughout their lives. Not everyone with OI has the same experience. Some people have extremely severe symptoms while others have mild cases. In addition to fractures, symptoms may include muscle weakness, hearing loss, curved bones, breathing problems, and short stature. Treatment of OI focuses on minimizing the risk of fractures and maximizing mobility and independence. Thankfully, new treatment options—including medications, growth hormones, gene therapy, and more—are currently being studied and offer hope to patients. Paget’s Disease of Bone Paget’s disease of bone causes bones to grow larger and weaker than they normally would. They can become misshapen and break more easily. Paget’s disease can affect one or more bones, but it doesn’t spread from bone to bone within the body. It’s most common in the pelvis, leg, spine and skull. Because the disease can affect bones in different areas of the body, symptoms vary. And the disease affects everyone differently. For example, someone with Paget’s disease in the skull may experience headaches while someone with the disease in the spine may have back pain or numbness. Paget’s disease is often confused with arthritis because it usually affects the bone close to the joint. However, the two are very different. Doctors use medications to slow down progression of the disease and help control bone pain. The earlier you seek treatment, the better your outcome. Diagnosis Is the Key to Treatment If you’re experiencing any bone symptoms or pain, or you’re concerned about your bone health, talk with your doctor or see an orthopedic specialist. Your doctor will do a physical exam, take your medical history, and order any necessary tests. If there’s a problem, it’s important to get a clear diagnosis so your doctor can plan the right treatment for you.