Disuse osteoporosis is when a loss of bone mass occurs due to a person not putting enough weight, stress, or pressure on the bones over a period.

It is typically due to a restriction in mobility that a person may be experiencing. For example, if they have an injury or health condition that hinders movement or if they are on bed rest.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that weakens the bones and reduces bone mass, which can leave bones fragile and more likely to fracture or break.

This article will discuss disuse osteoporosis, symptoms a person may experience, causes and risk factors, and available treatment options.

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Disuse osteoporosis refers to a loss of bone mass that can occur when a person cannot apply weight, pressure, or stress on the bones. The condition can affect one bone or multiple bones in the body.

The bones in a person’s skeleton are constantly changing. The skeleton goes through a bone remodeling cycle that occurs continually throughout life. During this cycle, the body reabsorbs old bone and replaces it with new bone.

An older 2014 study suggests that weight-bearing and pressure on the bones is an essential part of the bone remodeling cycle. If a person cannot apply weight or pressure to the bones, this may have an impact on how the body produces and strengthens new bone.

Not bearing weight and applying enough stress or pressure to bones is a major risk factor for a person developing disuse osteoporosis.

This condition can lead to bone fragility, bone mass loss, and an increased chance of a bone fracture or break.

Osteoporosis, which includes disuse osteoporosis, does not typically present with any symptoms until a person fractures or breaks a bone.

However, there are some signs of disuse osteoporosis a person can look out for, including:

  • severe back pain
  • a loss of height
  • easily breaking or fracturing bones from:
    • minor falls
    • lifting objects
    • bending
    • coughing
  • changes in posture, such as stooping or hunching

There are several reasons why a person may not bear enough weight or apply enough stress or pressure on the bones.

Some possible causes include:

  • being on bed rest
  • lack of mobilization due to a spinal cord injury
  • lack of mobilization due to a neuromuscular condition that affects the communication between the nerves and the muscles
  • excessive weight loss after bariatric surgery
  • lack of physical activity due to other health conditions
  • reduction of limb mobility following a stroke
  • traveling into space

To diagnose disuse osteoporosis, a doctor may first ask about a person’s medical history and perform a physical examination. They may ask questions about:

  • any movement restrictions
  • current or previous fractures
  • family history of osteoporosis
  • current or past health conditions
  • a person’s lifestyle

A doctor may also perform tests to help measure bone density and bone mass loss. The most common test to measure bone density is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).

During DXA, a doctor will scan the body to measure the density of bones in the skeleton. The most reliable way to diagnose disuse osteoporosis is to scan the hips and spine.

A doctor may also perform a quantitative ultrasound of the heel to measure bone loss.

Research suggests that weight-bearing and resistance exercises can help treat disuse osteoporosis by strengthening bones and increasing bone mass. However, this may not always be possible for a person with disuse osteoporosis due to a lack of mobility.

A 2021 study suggests physical rehabilitation programs may help a person who has an injury or is on bed rest, which may be caused by conditions, such as disuse osteoporosis.

Making sure a person consumes enough calcium and vitamin D can help strengthen bones and reduce the rate of bone loss.

There are several medications available to treat disuse osteoporosis, including:

Disuse osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass and bone density due to a reduction in mobility. If a person cannot apply frequent weight, stress, or pressure to the bones, this can result in disuse osteoporosis.

This condition may not present with any symptoms until a person fractures or breaks a bone. Some signs of disuse osteoporosis may include easily breaking or fracturing bones, a loss of height, and changes in posture.

A person may develop disuse osteoporosis if they have an injury or illness that reduces mobility, such as a spinal cord injury or a neuromuscular condition.

Treatment for disuse osteoporosis may include weight-bearing and resistance exercise, taking medications as prescribed by a doctor, and consuming enough calcium and vitamin D.