One condition usually associated with having weak bones is osteoporosis. However, there is another closely related condition called osteopenia that affects about 50% of Americans over age 50. In both cases, the classic cause of each is a loss of bone density. If normal bone density, for your age, is at the top and osteoporosis the bottom, then osteopenia is somewhere in the middle.

The biggest difference between the two conditions is with osteopenia, bones soften and become weak, and with osteoporosis, the bones become weak and brittle. In both cases, thus increasing the chances of suffering a bone break. One usual classic sign of osteopenia is a bending of the large leg bones thus causing bow legs. Usually with it comes to bone and muscle pain due to the un-natural angling of the bones. In some people, osteopenia progresses to osteoporosis while in others it never does.

Determining Bone Density

If you are concerned about whether you are at risk of getting either condition, a simple non-invasive test called a DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan can confirm or deny your concern. Based on the T-score of the test, it will determine if your bone density is normal, or if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Usually a T-score of:

  • 0 to -1 is normal
  • -1 to -2.5 indicates osteopenia
  • over -2.5 indicates osteoporosis

… the lower the score (0 to -1), the more porous or dense are your bones.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends at the least the following women get tested:

  • 65 or older
  • postmenopausal younger than 65
  • postmenopausal who have suffered a fracture

In addition, men over the age of 50 with any of the risk factors determined by their doctor should also get tested.

The ethnic background effect

While some factors are within a person’s control as far as controlling bone density loss, your family ethnic background isn’t one. About 33%
Caucasians and Asians over the age of 50 will develop low bone density to the point of being diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis.
In Hispanics, that number is 23% and in blacks 19%.


The best treatment options for prevention of either condition are simple: eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and engage in frequent weight-bearing exercise.


Foods rich in calcium include dairy products (preferably low-fat), spinach and broccoli, dried beans and salmon. For vitamin D, eat eggs and any of the fatty fish which include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Some foods are fortified with calcium and vitamin D so you can get both in one type of food. Examples include some breakfast cereals, certain bread, and orange juice. If you would rather get your vitamin D from sun exposure, all you need is 10 to 15 minutes twice a week.


The best type of exercise for bone loss prevention is weight-bearing, typically where your feet are on the floor. Walking, running, tennis, and lower body strength training all fall into this category. Strive to get 30 minutes a day of targeted exercise five days per week.

Both conditions can result in bone fractures. If you are in any of the risk categories, be sure to get tested. Regardless of your risk, eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and get the required amount and type of exercise each week to stave off bone density loss for as long as you can.