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What Is Osteolysis?

Some people develop osteolysis after hip replacement surgery.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Osteolysis is a condition in which the immune system triggers an attempt to reabsorb bone into the body. Associated with a number of bone and joint disorders, the condition can also sometimes occur when artificial joints are implanted. There are several different types of this condition, including distal clavicular osteolysis.

The process begins when the body senses some type of material that is considered to be a threat. The immune system triggers the release of osteoclasts in order to isolate and slowly absorb the material back into the body, where it can be converted into materials that post no threat. Unfortunately, osteolysis can also begin to deteriorate healthy bone tissue when the immune system incorrectly identifies the nature of the so-called foreign material.

The most common examples of osteolysis have to do with the use of artificial joints and implants, such as total shoulder replacements, artificial hips, and artificial knee joints. It is not unusual for small fragments of natural bone, as well as tiny fragments of the plastic or metal used in the implant, to wear off the main sections of bone or implant. When this happens, the immune system seeks to clean up the area by absorbing those stray particle fragments from the area.

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While this condition normally does not produce much in the way of symptoms, the results of the condition can be severe. Over time, the implant may slip out of alignment, making it impossible for the artificial joint to perform properly. At the same time, this shift can place additional pressure on the remaining bone in the area, possibly leading to a fracture or complete break. With both these events, the chances for some type of damage to the surrounding tissue opens the possibility of infection and inflammation that can become quite painful.

However, osteolysis can also occur when there are no artificial joints present. Distal osteolysis, also known as clavicular or distal clavicular osteolysis, is a problem that people who lift heavy weights sometimes experience. For example, a professional bodybuilder may place a great deal of stress on various joints, especially those around the clavicle. The end result is the triggering of the immune system to clean up stray bone particles which could lead to further erosion of the bone. Over time, this makes the clavicle weaker and thus impacts the ability of the shoulders to function properly during weightlifting exercises.

Because of the nature of osteolysis, it is sometimes necessary to undergo what is known as revision surgery. This type of surgery is used to replace the artificial joint with a new unit, repair the damage as much as possible, and hopefully allow the individual to enjoy and equitable quality of life. However, it is important to note that not everyone who receives a shoulder, knee, or hip replacement will experience osteolysis. Regular checkups will help identify the problem early on and make it possible to take action before any serious damage takes place.

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