Bone Density Scanning and Osteoarthritis

Question

Is it true that the onset of osteoarthritis (specifically in the left hip and parts of the spine) is sometimes marked by increased bone density in the affected joint(s)? If bone density is measured at the onset of OA using these joints, might not the results be misleading, i.e., perhaps indicating that bones are generally healthier than they may actually be?

Answer

When bone density is measured using DXA scanning, people with advanced (but not early) osteoarthritis in the spine (but not the hip) can appear to have a higher bone density than that measured by other methods because osteophytes (bone spurs) and disc narrowing may give the impression that the bone is thicker than it really is.  A good DXA interpreter will note this possibility when interpreting the scan.

Jon Giles, MD

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