What Is Bone Marrow Edema And What Are The Causes?



What is bone marrow edema? Edema is a medical term for swelling produced by an abnormal accumulation of fluids somewhere in the body. If we have ever experienced edema, it has most likely been somewhere on the skin, in the legs, or around the ankles, although we may have experienced it in other parts of our body. Probably the most common cause of edema is an insect bite, in which case swelling in the affected area is usually localized. Pregnancy is another cause of edema, and heart failure is yet another, and far more serious cause. Other serious causes of edema include a failure of the lymphatic system, or an accumulation of extracellular fluid in the brain.


Do Bones Swell?


Our bones don’t swell, or at least we’ve never experienced swelling bones, or have we? If we do experience bone marrow edema, is it something serious? Should we be worried? The first thing to note is, while our bones don’t noticeably swell, there can be swelling in a bone’s interior. Our bones are not “solid bone”. They are porous inside, and contain numerous blood vessels, tissue, and fluids. In fact, the interior areas of our bones are not solid but are rather flexible, and quite capable of experiencing swelling under certain conditions. Just as a bee sting can cause swelling, ranging from swelling around a small area, to the swelling of an entire arm or leg, an injury to a bone, or inflammation within a bone, can cause bone marrow edema, or swelling. When an arm or leg swells up, it is because fluids have been sent to that part of the body as part of the body’s healing mechanism. If a bone or a ligament is injured, the same thing can happen in the bone marrow.


Not Curable, But Treatable


Bone marrow edema is not considered to be a curable condition. Fortunately, however, it is in many cases treatable. It should also be noted that it is not always a serious condition. Often, someone who has bone marrow edema will not notice any symptoms, and the condition itself is not particularly serious. Like any instance of swelling, bone marrow edema is often the result of some outside cause or condition. If the outside condition can be alleviated or removed, the edema can usually be successfully treated. For example, if the edema is the result of a damaged ligament, the swelling can usually be successfully dealt with once the damage to the ligament has been repaired.


More often than not, bone marrow edema is experienced by a soreness in a joint. In that respect, bone marrow edema symptoms are in many ways similar to the symptoms of arthritis. In the case of edema, however, the underlying cause usually has to be found if anything other than temporary relief from the pain or discomfort is to be achieved.


When Bad News Becomes Good News


Once in awhile, a diagnosis of bone marrow edema is good news. How can it be good news when there is something amiss in the inner structure of one of your bones, particularly if it is giving you some discomfort? The short answer is, that sometimes when you’re bones are hurting, the underlying problem is diagnosed as cancer. It often takes an MRI examination to tell what is really going on in your bones, joints or cartilage. An MRI exam is often used to find out the best way to treat an arthritic condition, but the procedure is also used to find out what is wrong in the first place. A radiologist can tell if edema is present, and what the underlying cause might be. In rare instances, the underlying cause could be a tumor. If that is the case, the radiologist can verify that the tumor is to blame. Most of the time, however, the cause of the edema is something not nearly so serious. Not finding a tumor is always good news.


One of the terms arising from the increased use of MRI scanning techniques is bone bruising. This term is not really a substitute for the more scientific term, edema. It is more a reflection of what a radiologist sometimes sees when doing an MRI scan of a bone or joint. These bone bruises often appear in places which have not experienced any noticeable trauma, but nevertheless experience swelling and inflammation. These bone bruises, or places where edema is present, are most often found in the knee joints, the hip joints, or in the pelvic bones. The injury is usually associated with soft tissue injury rather than significant damage to the bone itself.


In summary, our bones can indeed swell, but it is inside the porous inner structure where the swelling occurs. Consequently, bone marrow edema isn’t something that is visually noticeable, and it often requires an MRI scan to be correctly diagnosed. It may not be a serous condition in itself, but at times the underlining cause can be something serious. If you think you are suffering from a sore bone or joint, it would be sound advice to ask your physician what should be done about it.