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Debunking the Bone on Bone Myth

“Best Walking Shoes for Knee Pain for Women” by gm.esthermax is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say it before:

“My knees are in such bad shape. It’s pretty much just bone on bone down there.”

Although this is a commonly held belief, athletic physical therapy speaks to the truth: “bone-on-bone is largely a myth.

Many patients complain of knee pain because they are “bone-on-bone” assuming there is nothing they can do but get surgery.

Fortunately, this common misconception just isn’t true. If a person is experiencing joint pain, one of the first treatment measures is X-rays or another imaging study of the joint. If the joint damage on the X-ray is severe, you may be told you are “bone-on-bone.” However, all that term means is that there is some amount of cartilage loss in the joint.

As the cartilage deteriorates, there is less cushioning between the ends of the bone that form the joint. This “rubbing” of bones against each other with less cushioning causes pain and discomfort. However, rarely, if ever, is the cartilage of the joint completely destroyed.

A doctor at the Core Medical Center in Blue Springs, MO, conducted more than 1,000 knee X-rays and discovered only one case where the cartilage of the knee joint was completely destroyed. The other 999 cases were simply deterioration of the cartilage, but it remained intact and functioning.

The truth is that “bone-on-bone” is just a fancy way of saying the cartilage is slowly deteriorating. Very seldom does it ever completely disappear. This term is used by doctors and physical therapists to better describe the situation to patients and the severity of their pain points.

If you’re experiencing joint pain or discomfort, our injury rehabilitation clinic in Bethesda/Chevy Chase can help! Whether you’re looking to overcome a recent injury or sick of joint pain preventing you from enjoying an active lifestyle, our team of physical therapists can help!

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