Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker than normal and your bone density is lower than the average adult, but not so far gone that they break easily, which is the hallmark of osteoporosis. Your bones are usually at their densest when you’re about 30. Osteopenia, if it happens at all, usually occurs after age 50. The exact age depends on how strong your bones are when you’re young. If they’re hardy, you may never get osteopenia. If your bones aren’t naturally dense, you may get it earlier.
Losing bone density is a normal part of ageing. This happens at different rates in different people. In fact, many people have osteopenia in later life as their bones get older. It could also be due to genetics, medication taken for a different condition or having naturally smaller denser bones.
Osteopenia is considered a chronic condition, but it affects everyone differently. While some people with osteopenia may struggle to complete daily tasks without experiencing intense back pain or injuring a bone, other people don’t even realize they have this condition.
UCF Health writes that “back pain is common in people who have osteopenia because the spine loses its bone density, which makes it more difficult to support the body. Without strong spine support, the body struggles to hold itself up to walk or to sit in an upright position.“
There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you might have signs and symptoms that include: Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra. Loss of height over time.
Having osteopenia does increase your chances of developing osteoporosis which then increases the risk of fractures. Chronic low back pain patients have an increased incidence of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
If your mother or grandmother suffered from osteoporosis (we all know someone who does), you can also start to see the signs of osteopenia between the ages of 30 and 40, when bone loss gradually starts.
Bone density is measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). DEXA is an imaging test that uses X-rays to determine whether you have healthy bones, osteopenia or osteoporosis. It provides a score called a T-score:
- +1 to –1 indicates normal bone density.
- –1 to –2.5 indicates osteopenia.
- –2.5 or lower means osteoporosis.
DEXA gives healthcare providers a “baseline measurement.” That means they can compare the current test results to future results to determine whether bone density decreases over time.
There’s no cure for osteopenia, but it’s important to look after your bone density as much as possible. Treatment involves a simple approach to keep your bones as healthy and strong as possible and prevent it from turning into osteoporosis.
- Calcium treatment.
- Healthy diet.
- Supplements for vitamin D deficiency and exposure to the sun to help your body absorb vitamin D.