Bone density is the mineral matter per square centimeter of bones within the human body. This has traditionally been cited as a major indicator of bone strength. On the other hand, bones that are less dense are lacking mineral components which makes them more porous and susceptible to breaking. Density measurements are advised for those at risk of developing osteoporosis but this assessment alone may not prove sufficient. Dense bones can still be weak, however, new bone assessment techniques are being explored in hopes of providing a more well-rounded picture of overall bone health.

Current Bone Strength Measuring Practices

Ultrasound or X-ray absorptiometry are currently the standard approaches used for bone density assessment. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry is especially common; in this procedure, two X-ray beams with differing levels of energy are targeted at the patient’s bones. The absorption of each beam by the bone is calculated, with modifications made to account for soft tissue absorption.

What Constitutes Poor Bone Density?

Bone density measurements are typically displayed in the form of a T-score or a Z-score. A T-score involves the comparison of the patient’s bone density with that of a healthy child or young adult. While the Z-score compares the individual to those of the same age and gender. According to the World Health Organization, a patient must have a T-score of greater than -1 in order to be deemed healthy. Those with T-scores of less than -2.5 can be diagnosed with osteoporosis and individuals with T-scores between -1 and -2.5 have osteopenia.

Promising New Methods for Measuring Bone Strength

Traditional bone density measurements are not always accurate, as it is possible for bones to simultaneously possess high density and low strength. Fortunately, there are several advancements in bone strength analysis on the horizon. A new technique developed by the University of California Santa Barbara has proven especially promising, with a tool known as the OsteoProbe testing the overall strength of an individual’s skeletal system, as opposed to the mere density. The OsteoProbe provides a more thorough look at an individual’s bone status through the creation of a tiny dent in one of the patient’s bones. Once the indentation is complete, a needle probe is used to measure the depth of the dent. These measurements are then calibrated, with a final score assigned to each patient. A 100 percent score indicates healthy bones, while a 60 percent may mean that the patient has fragile bones and, perhaps, diagnosable osteoporosis.

Without sufficient bone strength information, it is impossible to know whether an individual is truly at risk of fracturing a bone. A well-rounded assessment system featuring bone density measurements and OsteoProbe testing will better equip physicians and orthopedic specialists with the information they need to prescribe the most effective treatments for their patients.

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