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What's the Difference Between Bone Pain and Muscle Pain?

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Difference Between Bone Pain and Muscle Pain?

Pain in any part of the body can have a profound impact, causing distress and discomfort. It can range from mild to severe and should never be ignored. Being vigilant and proactive can mitigate the severity of the pain and prevent further damage. However, differentiating between the various types of pain can be challenging, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between bone and muscle pain. Both types of pain often have similar symptoms, making it difficult to identify the source of the pain.

In this article, we will explore everything from the causes to the differences between bone pain and muscle pain. By understanding the characteristics of each type of pain, individuals can better recognize and manage their pain effectively.

What is bone pain?

What is Bone Pain?

Bone pain is a type of pain that is often characterised by tenderness or discomfort in one or more bones of the body. It can be a debilitating and intense pain that is difficult to manage. The pain may be sharp and deep-seated, indicating an underlying disease or condition. It is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing bone pain, as the underlying cause needs to be identified and treated to prevent further complications. Early diagnosis and treatment of bone pain can help manage the pain and prevent further damage to the bones.

Causes of bone pain

1. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a chronic and progressive bone disease characterised by a decrease in bone mineral density and bone mass, as well as changes in the structure and strength of the bone. This can lead to bone pain, as well as an increased risk of fractures, especially in the hip, spine, and wrist. Other factors that can contribute to the development of osteoporosis include genetics, hormonal changes, certain medications, and lifestyle habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.This condition is more common in older adults, particularly women, but it can affect individuals of any age and gender.

2. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease or wear and tear, is the most prevalent form of arthritis that commonly affects the hands, hips, and knees. It develops due to the gradual breakdown of cartilage, which serves as a cushion between the joints. This breakdown can cause bone pain and discomfort in the affected area. The bone that supports the cartilage undergoes changes that contribute to the degeneration of the joint. Although osteoarthritis is often referred to as wear and tear on the joints, it is not caused by mere mechanical stress on the joints. Instead, tissue changes, such as inflammation or damage to the cartilage, can trigger the breakdown process.

3. Bone fracture

Bone fractures occur when a break or crack in the bone is caused by trauma, accidents, or sports injuries. Fractures can result in intense and persistent bone pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected area. However, some medical conditions, such as osteoporosis or bone cancer, as well as repetitive movements such as running or jumping, can also increase the risk of experiencing bone fractures.

4. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of significant physical changes for women, driven by hormonal fluctuations. One common issue that can cause discomfort during pregnancy is bone pain, particularly in the pelvic area. This pain can result from increased flexibility in the ligaments that hold the pelvic bones together, which is essential during labour but can lead to discomfort in the pelvic girdle.

5. Bone infection

Osteomyelitis, commonly known as bone infection, is characterised by an acute or chronic inflammatory process primarily caused by bacteria. This infection can cause severe bone pain in the affected area. The infection typically occurs when bacteria or other germs spread to a bone from infected skin, muscles, or tendons near the bone. In some cases, the infection may also occur due to surgery, trauma, or the insertion of medical devices such as artificial joints or screws. Other microorganisms, such as fungi or viruses, can also be responsible for bone infections.

6. Leukaemia

Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, where blood cells are produced. The bone marrow is located in the inner part of the bones, and it plays a vital role in creating healthy blood cells. It occurs when abnormal blood cells are produced and do not function properly, leading to various complications. People with leukaemia may experience bone pain, particularly in the legs, as the cancer cells may affect the bone marrow, causing inflammation and discomfort.

7. Sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that affects the shape of red blood cells, causing them to be crescent-shaped instead of the normal round shape. This abnormal shape makes it difficult for the red blood cells to flow through the blood vessels, resulting in reduced oxygen supply to the body's tissues and organs. The lack of oxygen to the bone tissue can cause severe bone pain, particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs. This pain can be acute or chronic, and it may be triggered by physical activity, stress, or changes in temperature.

What is muscle pain?

What is muscle pain?

Muscle pain, or myalgia, refers to the discomfort or pain one experiences in their muscles. Muscle pain can be acute or chronic, and its causes are diverse. The severity and duration of muscle pain vary significantly from person to person.

Acute muscle pain occurs when a muscle is sprained or strained due to physical activity, tension, stress, or minor injuries. The pain can be felt in one or two muscles and may last a few days to a week. People who are physically active or perform strenuous activities such as weightlifting, running, or playing sports are more likely to experience acute muscle pain. Chronic muscle pain, on the other hand, is a more severe and long-lasting condition that can occur due to autoimmune conditions, neurological disorders, or long-term muscle injuries. Chronic muscle pain can affect several muscles in the body and may last for weeks, months, or even years.

Muscle pain can be felt throughout the body and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and stiffness. The pain can be mild or severe and affect a person's daily activities and quality of life.

Causes of muscle pain

1. Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune conditions, including but not limited to lupus, multiple sclerosis, myositis, and inflammatory myopathies, can lead to muscle pain in individuals. These conditions occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy cells and tissues, including the muscles. As a result, the immune system causes inflammation and muscle damage, leading to pain, weakness, and other symptoms.

2. Muscle strain

When an individual repeatedly uses the same muscles without adequate rest, it can lead to muscle strain or injury. This can occur due to overuse or engaging in physical activities that require repetitive motions, such as running, jumping, or weightlifting. Muscle strains occur when the muscle fibres are tearing, leading to pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected muscle. The severity of the strain can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, it may require medical intervention.

3. Neuromuscular disorders

Neuromuscular disorders are a group of diseases that affect the peripheral nervous system, including all motor and sensory nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the body. These disorders predominantly cause muscle weakness, and the most common neuromuscular disorders are myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. These disorders can significantly impact an individual's daily life and require a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, often involving medications, physical therapy, and assistive devices.

4. Infections

Several bacterial and viral infections can cause muscle pain, including:

Bacterial infections:

  • Tuberculosis

  • Lyme disease

  • Streptococcal infections

  • Staphylococcal infections

Viral infections:

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Common cold

  • Dengue fever

  • Chikungunya fever

  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

  • Zika virus

These infections can cause muscle pain due to inflammation in the muscles or the immune system's response to the infection.

5. Other causes

Muscle pain can also be caused by various medical conditions such as cancer including sarcomas, which is a type of cancer that begins in bone or in the soft tissues of the body and leukaemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, stress, and tension. These conditions can lead to discomfort and pain in one or more muscles in the body. In addition to these conditions, some medications can also cause inflammation of the muscle cells, leading to muscle pain.

Difference between bone pain and muscle pain

Bone pain

Muscle pain

​Bone pain is easy to locate or pinpoint

​Muscle pain is more generalised and harder to identify

​Bone pain is often described as deep and sharp

​It is described as dull and aching.

​Last longer than muscle pain, and may be present even at rest

​It is usually short-lived

​It can be due to more serious condition

​Often times it is less serious compared to bone pain

​Treatment for bone pain may involve medications, radiation, or surgery depending on the underlying cause

​Muscle pain can often be treated with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers.

Final takeaway,

Now that you have a better understanding of the causes and differences between bone pain and muscle pain, you can distinguish between the two with more ease. However, it is essential to seek medical attention if you experience bone or muscle pain that seems to persist. With timely medical attention and prompt care, you can reduce the chances of long-term effects and return to your quality of life.

Polaris Healthcare is committed to providing exceptional orthopaedic care for patients with bone and muscle pain. Our state-of-the-art facility, along with our team of top-notch orthopaedic surgeons and excellent physiotherapy department, ensure that our patients receive the highest quality of care. We offer comprehensive pre-and post-operative care to our patients, enabling them to return to their normal lives and improve their quality of life.

About The Author: Dr. Surendra Patil

Dr. Surendra Patil
Dr. Surendra Patil

Dr. Surendra Patil, MBBS, Diploma in Orthopaedics, DNB - Orthopedics Surgery, is a dynamic surgeon with skilled hands well versed in various surgical procedures in orthopedics and exceptionally well-read in his chosen expertise. He is proficient in Arthroscopic Surgeries, Adult Joint Reconstruction Surgery, Accidents & Emergencies, Joint Replacement, Healthcare Management, and Healthcare in general. He is an experienced Medical Professional with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry.

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