Lyme disease is caused by the borrelia bacteria and is contracted when a person is bitten by an infected tick. When the bacteria makes its way into the body, it travels throughout the bloodstream, causing damage that may lead to various symptoms and ailments. At first the bacteria typically causes flu-like symptoms, but all systems in the body can become affected by a Lyme infection.
One such system that can be negatively affected by Lyme is the musculoskeletal system and all areas of the body that are part of it. But what is the musculoskeletal system, exactly, and how does the borrelia bacteria infiltrate it and cause damage? Read on to learn all you need to know about the potential musculoskeletal symptoms of Lyme disease.
What is the musculoskeletal system?
The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, soft tissue, and bones. These work in unison to support the weight of the body and help it move.
In addition, the musculoskeletal system also helps to protect organs from damage, stores minerals and fat, and plays a role in how blood and blood cells are formed. Essentially, the musculoskeletal system is both the muscular and skeletal systems working together in unison to perform many key bodily functions.
How does Lyme disease affect the musculoskeletal system?
Various parts of the musculoskeletal system can be affected by Lyme disease. One of the most common and prevalent is the joints, which consist of bone, muscles, cartilage, ligaments, and synovium. The joints are vital when it comes to range of motion and everyday movement. When Lyme disease infiltrates the joints, it begins to cause inflammation. This leads to joint pain and swelling, which is often referred to as Lyme arthritis.
The same inflammation can also affect the muscles, bursae, tendons, and bones. This leads to widespread pain within the musculoskeletal system. The immune system reacts to the bacteria’s presence, leading to a response that causes inflammation in these areas to rid the body of the infection. However, the borrelia bacteria needs to be treated with antibiotics, so this inflammation remains and continues to cause pain until treatment occurs.
In some cases, pain in the various areas of the musculoskeletal system may remain even after treatment because of the bacteria’s ability to evade detection. Research has also found that musculoskeletal disorders such as fibromyalgia may also be triggered by Lyme disease.
Does Lyme disease cause joint and muscle pain?
As mentioned above, joint and muscle pain is a prevalent symptom of Lyme disease because of how the bacteria enters and affects the musculoskeletal system. The damage done to the joints and muscles can be permanent if treatment is not carried out promptly. The joints that are primarily affected by Lyme disease are the knees, though typically only one knee is affected at a time. This in itself could be an indicator of Lyme disease, because other types of arthritis can affect joints on both sides such as both knees, both wrists, or both elbows.
Although joint and muscle pain can occur within the earlier stages of Lyme disease, it is most often experienced in the late-stage period when the bacterial infection has progressed and caused further damage to many different systems within the body. The arthritic symptoms that are caused by Lyme disease, such as joint pain and swelling, are often one of the first signs of a late-stage infection.
Muscle pain, on the other hand, can occur at any point and is often associated with the first signs of infection. The pain experienced during an early Lyme disease infection is often non-specific and could be mistaken for other types of muscle pain, including those that come with a flu infection. That is why, in the early stages, it can be hard to distinguish a Lyme disease infection based on musculoskeletal symptoms alone.
When it comes to bones, Lyme disease can also cause damage that leads to the onset of different diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Because of this, a Lyme patient may have weaker bones, lower bone density, and an increased risk of experiencing fractures. Bone loss in Lyme disease happens because the bacteria has the ability to compromise the way the body builds bone.
How does Lyme disease cause permanent damage to the musculoskeletal system?
As mentioned above, Lyme disease can cause permanent damage to the musculoskeletal system even after treatment has been sought. When this happens, and symptoms persist, it is referred to as post-Lyme disease syndrome.
Although it isn’t exactly clear why some people with Lyme disease have lingering musculoskeletal symptoms while others do not, it is thought that the borrelia bacteria can essentially hide out in tissues and muscles. It goes dormant in an effort to protect itself from antibiotics, and if evasion of treatment is successful, the bacteria can then reactivate and cause further damage to the musculoskeletal system long after treatment.
The musculoskeletal system is a vital part of overall health, so in order to ensure it isn’t compromised by Lyme disease, early detection of an infection is vital.
Featured image by Nino Liverani on Unsplash