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Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH)

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is a form of arthritis that affects ligaments and tendons around the back and other parts of the body.
  • The cause of DISH is not known, but there are some risk factors such as being older than 50, male, taking certain medicines and having diabetes.
  • You may not experience any symptoms or you may have pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, weakness, or pins and needles down your arms and legs.
  • Treatment for DISH includes medicine, exercise and physiotherapy. Sometimes surgery may be recommended.

What is diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH)?

Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (also known as DISH) is a type of arthritis where the tendons (the body tissues that attach your muscles to your bones) and ligaments (the tissues that hold bones together and in place) become hard. These tissues can then turn into bone, usually where the tendons or ligaments meet the bone. This can cause bony spurs (growths) along the edge of the bone.

DISH usually affects your spine in the neck and upper back, but it can also affect your shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees and ankles.

DISH is also sometimes known as Forestier’s disease or ankylosing hyperostosis.

What are the symptoms of DISH?

Some people with DISH will not have any symptoms.

If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • stiffness, usually in the morning or evening
  • back pain, especially in your upper back
  • shoulder, elbow, knee or heel pain
  • pain when the area that is affected by DISH is pressed
  • difficulty swallowing or a hoarse voice, if you have DISH in your neck
  • pins and needles or weakness in your arms or legs
  • difficulty moving your neck or back

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes DISH?

The cause of DISH is unknown, but there are some reasons that can make you more likely to develop DISH. These include if you:

  • are male
  • older than 50 years
  • have diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • live with obesity
  • have taken a medicine called isotretinoin (a medicine used for acne)
  • have a spine that is shaped unusually

You may also be at higher risk if you move or lift heavy objects often.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see you doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed or are worried that you could have DISH.

If your doctor has diagnosed you with DISH, and the treatment they recommend isn’t working, or if your symptoms are getting worse, you should go back to your doctor for further assessment.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is DISH diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and then do a physical examination. They may also ask you to have blood tests to help rule out other causes of arthritis.

You may also have some imaging, including an x-ray, CT scan or MRI scan.

How is DISH treated?

DISH may be treated in many different ways. Often your doctor will recommend using one or more of:

If you have symptoms from a bony outgrowth pressing on a nerve, then you may need surgery.

Having a healthy diet is recommended. Sometimes you may find that using special equipment can make daily tasks easier if you have DISH.

You may be scared, frustrated or angry when you are experiencing symptoms of DISH. It is important to speak to someone and get support if these feelings are affecting you.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Can DISH be prevented?

It is hard to know how to prevent DISH, because the cause is unknown. However, reducing your risk factors, such as making sure you look after your sugar levels if you have diabetes, may be able to help.

Complications of DISH

If you are diagnosed with DISH and have the right treatment, you can usually live a normal life.

However, there are some more serious complications. Bony outgrowths in your neck can make it hard to swallow and cause a change in your voice. They can also cause sleep apnoea — a condition where you stop breathing for a few moments in your sleep. DISH can also make you more likely to break a bone in your spine.

Resources and support

Arthritis Australia has a webpage with more information about DISH.

Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

Do you prefer to read in languages other than English?

Arthritis Queensland has some information sheets on living with arthritis in community languages.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2024

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