Osteomalacia | Osteomalacia Treatment and Diagnosis

Osteomalacia or “soft bones” is a condition that affects your bones and is most often due to a lack of vitamin D and sometimes due to mineral deficiency. When found in children, this condition is called rickets. Nowadays it is rare to see rickets, but osteomalacia is still a threat to adults.

The human body is constantly removing old bone and replacing it with new bone. This is called “bone turnover” and osteomalacia interferes with this very important process.To perform bone turnover, your bone needs

  • Minerals (calcium and phosphorus)
  • Bone protein matrix (osteoid, made up of collagen)
  • Osteoclasts (bone removing cells)
  • Osteoblasts (bone producing cells)
The Bone Turnover Cycle
Osteomalacia Interferes with the Bone Turnover Cycle image

Osteoid is the bone protein matrix and when there is insufficient mineral or osteoblast dysfunction, the collagen in the osteoid does not mineralize properly, and it accumulates. If bone is made up of more collagen than minerals, bones become soft and increase risk of fracture.

What Causes Osteomalacia?

Bone mineralisation requires adequate minerals (calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D). Inadequate amounts of any one of these will develop into osteomalacia. Here is a list of the known causes of osteomalacia.

  • Lack of vitamin D in diet
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight, which naturally generates vitamin D in the body
  • Vitamin D absorption problems

Other possible risk factors of osteomalacia

  • Hereditary vitamin D metabolism disorders
  • Kidney failure
  • Mineral deficiency
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease

Osteomalacia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Osteomalacia can cause bone pain and muscle weakness, but because the symptoms are so numerous it is common to be misdiagnosed and confused with other conditions. Pain is most often felt in the legs, groin, upper thighs, knees and sometimes in the feet. In some cases pain will be the result of partial fractures, which are only visible on x-rays. Muscle weakness tends to affect the thighs and the muscles in the shoulders and main core of the body.

Osteomalacia can be diagnosed by x-ray and with a blood test that will measure levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. A blood test can also be measured for Alkaline phosphatase and parathyroid hormone levels.

Osteomalacia Treatment

In most cases osteomalacia is curable through increased intake of vitamin D, calcium and other bone building nutrients. It is always best to get these minerals from your diet, but daily supplements of vitamin D and calcium will be required as an osteomalacia treatment.

To help you assess your recommended daily intake and how much calcium, vitamin D and other bone building nutrients you are getting from your diet please use our Bone Health Calculator.


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