Osteoporosis vs. Osteopenia vs. Osteoarthritis: The Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Osteoporosis vs. Osteopenia vs. Osteoarthritis: The Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

At least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime. In fact, there are over 2 million Canadians living with osteoporosis, osteopenia, or osteoarthritis. The reduction in bone mass density (BMD) can occur over a number of years without being detected. Let’s take a look at these three bone-related conditions, and how to catch the signs before bone deterioration creeps up on you.


Osteoporosis is a bone disease that can occur in people of any age, but is more common in older adults, especially women. Picture the inside of a healthy bone as having small spaces, much like a honeycomb. When someone has osteoporosis, those spaces are increased which causes the bone to lose strength and density. Since osteoporosis causes bones to break down faster than they can rebuild, it puts people at a higher risk for fractures or bone breaks, even while doing routine activities such as standing or walking.

Signs & Symptoms of Osteoporosis

The most commonly affected bones of a person with osteoporosis include the ribs, hips, wrists and spine. But, often a person doesn’t know they have osteoporosis until he or she is being treated for a bone break or fracture. At this point, the disease is already fairly advanced. Some symptoms that can help you identify osteoporosis before a break or fracture occurs include:

  • Receding gums
  • Weakened grip strength
  • Stooped posture. This is caused by the compression of the vertebrae which may also cause a slight curving of the upper back.
  • Loss of height over time
  • Lower back pain
  • Weak and brittle nails
  • General pain (often stemming from an unknown fracture)

If you feel any pain or discomfort, especially in the back, neck, hip, or wrist, it is recommended that you visit your doctor; you may have a fractured bone that requires treatment.

Treatments for Osteoporosis

For individuals living with osteoporosis, there are a variety of treatment options available. The primary goal of treatment is to slow bone loss and reduce the risk of a bone break or fracture. Some common treatments for osteoporosis include:

  • Medications that stimulate bone growth.
  • A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs calcium to build and maintain strong bones, and it needs vitamin D to help absorb the calcium.
  • Other nutrients that promote bone and joint health such as collagen, protein, magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc.


Osteopenia is a condition in which a person has lower bone density than normal. But, it is not considered a disease, or as extreme as osteoporosis. However, having osteopenia does increase your chances of developing osteoporosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Osteopenia

Unlike osteoporosis, osteopenia does not normally have any signs and symptoms. There isn’t any pain associated with lower bone density unless a bone is broken or fractured. However, a person may be at a higher risk for osteopenia if they can identify with several of the following factors:

  • Has family history of low Bone Mass Density (BMD)
  • Aged 50 years or older
  • Experienced menopause before the age of 45
  • Had ovaries removed prior to menopause
  • Sedentary lifestyle / minimal exercise
  • Lack of calcium and vitamin D in diet
  • Smokes or uses other forms of tobacco
  • Drinks alcohol or caffeine excessively
  • Takes prednisone or phenytoin
  • Has Cushing syndrome
  • Has hyperparathyroidism which prevents the parathyroid glands from maintaining an appropriate balance of calcium in the bloodstream and tissues.
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), a condition that can accelerate your body’s metabolism significantly, causing sudden weight loss.

The more risk factors an individual has, the higher the risk of osteopenia. If you have several of the risk factors listed above, or if you’re a woman aged 65 or older, it is recommended that you visit your doctor to have your Bone Mass Density (BMD) assessed.

Treatments for Osteopenia

By keeping your bones healthy and strong – with exercise, particularly resistance type exercise and a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium – you can help prevent osteopenia from developing. The risk of breaking a bone when you have osteopenia is fairly small; however, if you have low BMD, a doctor may recommend that you take calcium and/or vitamin D supplements to improve bone strength.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and affects more Canadians than all other forms of arthritis combined.  Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that leads to the breakdown of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. In most cases, the wear-and-tear on joint tissues stems from the exposure to heavy workloads over a long period of time.

Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, big toes, hands, and spine. Much like osteoporosis (but unlike osteopenia), the signs and symptoms are usually noticeable. Osteoarthritis affects individuals differently, but common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain and aches
  • Morning stiffness that lasts less than 30 minutes
  • Reduced movement in the affected joint(s)
  • Swelling

Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, with treatment, the pain can be managed. Much like osteoporosis, there are a variety of treatment options available to individuals with osteoarthritis. Some common treatments include:

  • Physical activity. Studies have shown that resistance training, walking and stretching can reduce pain.
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Common medications used to treat osteoarthritis include: analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and hyaluronic acid.
  • Fortunately, with the legalization of cannabis, people in Canada can take advantage of the scientifically proven benefits of cannabis consumption for the management of chronic pain related to osteoarthritis.
  • Chiropractic care
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Joint replacement surgery that replaces or repairs severely damaged joints, especially hips or knees.

Osteoporosis, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis can share similar signs and symptoms, but the treatment approach is different for each condition. Knowing how to prevent and manage these conditions can help reduce your pain/discomfort, as well as the risk of bone breaks or fractures.

Source: Closing the Gap

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