What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a pathological condition of the bones in which there is depreciation of bone density signifying that the bones are getting weaker. In other words, if you have osteopenia, you have lower bone density than normal. Your bone density peaks when you’re about 35 years old.

Osteopenia gradually progresses to osteoporosis if not treated appropriately.

How common is osteopenia?

About half of Americans older than age 50 get osteopenia. Osteopenia is found to occur more in females than males. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of osteopenia?

Osteopenia doesn’t usually cause symptoms. Losing bone density doesn’t cause pain.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes osteopenia?

It is natural for the bone to become thinner as a person ages. This process usually starts in the middle age when the existing cells are resorbed by the body faster in comparison to how fast a new bone is made, making the bones fragile. Because of this process, the bones start to lose minerals, mass, and their structure and become weak and more prone to frequent fractures. Osteopenia can also be caused due to other underlying medical conditions or treatments.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for osteopenia?

There are many risk factors for osteopenia, such as:

  • Being female, with small-boned women of Asian and Caucasian descent having the highest risk
  • Family history of low BMD
  • Being older than age 50
  • Menopause before age 45
  • Removal of ovaries before menopause
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • A poor diet, especially one lacking calcium and vitamin D
  • Smoking or using other forms of tobacco
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • Taking prednisone or phenytoin

Certain other conditions can also increase your risk of developing osteopenia:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is osteopenia diagnosed?

Osteopenia is diagnosed using measures of bone mineral density (BMD). The test recommended by the National Osteoporosis Foundation to measure BMD is the dual energy X-ray absorptiometry scan or DXA scan (formerly known as DEXA scan). A DXA scan measures BMD in the hip (femoral neck), spine, and sometimes the wrist. These locations are chosen because these are frequent sites of bone fracture. The DXA is a very accurate predictor of future fracture risk.

The DXA scan gives two results: a “T score” and a “Z score.” The Z score compares the patient’s BMD to the average of a person of the same age and sex. The T score compares the BMD to a healthy 30-year-old of the same sex. These scores are measured in standard deviations above or below normal.

Other tests used to measure bone density include the peripheral dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (pDXA), quantitative computed tomography (QCT), peripheral QCT (pQCT), and quantitative ultrasound densitometry (QUS). Bone density test results can be obtained by any of these methods.

Sometimes a routine X-ray reveals diffuse osteopenia (osteopenia in all bones visualized by the X-ray) or osteopenia of a particular location, such as spinal osteopenia. Periarticular osteopenia is an indication of past inflammation around a certain joint. This can be seen in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and does not necessarily indicate a decreased BMD throughout the bony skeleton. While routine X-rays may suggest decreased bone mineral density, the DXA scan is much more precise in diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis.

How is osteopenia treated?

The goal of treatment is to keep osteopenia from progressing into osteoporosis.

The first part of treatment involves diet and exercise choices. The risk of breaking a bone when you have osteopenia is fairly small, so doctors don’t usually prescribe medicine unless your BMD is very close to the osteoporosis level. They may talk to you about taking a calcium or vitamin D supplement, although generally it’s better to get enough of each from your diet.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage osteopenia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with osteopenia:

Osteopenia diet

To get calcium and vitamin D, eat nonfat and low-fat dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt. Some types of orange juice, breads, and cereals are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Other foods with calcium include:

  • Dried beans
  • Broccoli
  • Pink salmon
  • Spinach

The goal for people with osteoporosis is 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day and 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D. However, it isn’t clear whether this is the same for osteopenia.

Osteopenia exercises

If you have osteopenia, are a young adult, and are a premenopausal female, walking, jumping, or running at least 30 minutes on most days will strengthen your bones. These are all examples of weight-bearing exercises, which means you do them with your feet touching the ground. While swimming and biking may help your heart and build muscles, they don’t build bones. Even small increases in BMD can significantly reduce your risk for fractures later in life.

However, as you get older, it becomes much harder for you to build bone. With age, your exercise should emphasize muscle strengthening and balance instead. Walking is still great, but now swimming and biking count too. These exercises can help reduce your chances of falling. It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor about the best and safest exercises for you.

In addition to walking or other exercise, try these strengthening exercises:

Hip abductors

Hip abductors strengthen your hips and improve balance. Do this two or three times a week.

  1. Stand sidewise next to a chair and hold onto it with one hand. Stand straight.
  2. Put your other hand on top of your pelvis and raise your leg out and to the side, keeping it straight.
  3. Keep your toe pointed forward. Don’t raise so high that your pelvis rises.
  4. Lower the leg. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Change sides and do the same exercise 10 times with your other leg.

Toe and heel raises

Toe raises and heel raises strengthen lower legs and improve balance. Do them each day. Wear shoes for this exercise if you have pain in your feet.

Stand facing the back of a chair. Lightly hold onto it with one or both hands, however you need to stay balanced. Work up to being able to stay balanced using just one hand or a few fingers.

  1. Stand straight.
  2. Keep your heels on the ground and lift your toes off the floor. Keep standing straight with your knees straight.
  3. Hold for five seconds. Then lower your toes.
  4. Rise up on your toes, imagining that you’re moving your head up to the ceiling.
  5. Hold for five seconds. Stop if you have a muscle cramp.
  6. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor.
  7. Repeat 10 times.

Prone leg lifts

Prone leg lifts strengthen your lower back and buttocks and stretch the front of your thighs. Do this exercise two to three times a week.

  1. Lie on your stomach on a mat on the floor or on a firm bed.
  2. Put a pillow under your abdomen so when you lift your leg you’re just coming up to a neutral position. You may rest your head on your arms or put a rolled-up towel under your forehead. Some people like to put a rolled towel under each shoulder and under their feet as well.
  3. Take a deep breath, gently press your pelvis against the pillow, and squeeze your buttocks.
  4. Slowly raise one thigh off the floor, with your knee slightly bent. Hold for a count of two. Keep your foot relaxed.
  5. Lower your thigh and hip back to the ground.
  6. Repeat 10 times.
  7. Do 10 with the other leg.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: March 9, 2018 | Last Modified: March 9, 2018

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