The Only Way To Know If Your Bones Are Strong

Updated: March 31, 2020

Bone scan image on a screen

Do you know how strong your bones are? You might think you can just tell, but the truth is no one can accurately know without having either an ultrasound or DEXA test that measures the density of your bones.

That you’re “feeling fine” can be a deceiving indicator of your bone health, as most are doing just that, until they suffer an excruciating fracture from a small bump or fall.

Our Bones – Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Most of us go to the dentist once, often twice per year for a check up, since we were kids. Often you arrive thinking that your teeth are good because you’ve had zero aches or pains.

But an hour later the dentist is telling you that you have two cavities that need attention. I don’t know how many times that has happened to me, or how many dental x-rays I’ve had over the years.

But I do know I didn’t have my bones checked even once, until I was 40.

And that was only because I, being in the industry, had access to an ultrasound machine (yes, the same one Will Smith sold in the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness”).

I stuck my bare ankle in the designated area, and two balloons filled up with water on either side until snug. Then sound waves harmlessly passed from one side of my ankle to the other.

I was told by the technician that the onboard computer measures the speed at which the sound wave travels through my ankle bone, which determines the density. Porous bones allow the wave to pass through quickly; dense bones slow it down.

As I waited for the machine to print out my score, I marvelled at the minds that are capable of conceiving and building such an apparatus.

The Verdict

“Uhh, sorry to say, but you have osteopenia.” The technician interrupted my daydream with a thud, explaining that I had lower than normal bone density ( a T-score between -1.0 and -2.5).

My illusion of being in perfect health popped like the two balloons at my feet.

“How could that be?” I asked him. I was at the time just a 40 year old male with a long history of exercise and eating decently, so it made no sense that I was halfway to full on osteoporosis – the disease where the inside of your bones looks like Swiss cheese!

He informed me that yes, weight bearing activities and watching your diet are two helpful habits that can help stave off bone loss.

But there are several other influencers that make your bones either stronger or weaker, like age (after 35 years old we all lose more bone than we make); gender (women are at higher risk for porous bones); family history (does osteoporosis or osteopenia run in your family?); race (Caucasian and Asian people are at higher risk); smoking; alcohol consumption; sugar rich foods; high caffeine consumption; prescription drug use (corticosteroid for example) and processed foods.

Time To Take Inventory

If any of these influencers describe you and your habits, then having a check up on your bone density is crucial. Because your bones are just like your bank account, in that everyday bone is grown (deposited) and broken down (withdrawn). But if withdrawals exceed deposits for long enough, then you go bankrupt; osteoporotic!

We all hope to make a bit more money than we spend, so that we can save enough for later when we’re older and can’t, or don’t want to work.

Getting bone tested now is just the same as checking your bank balance and planning for the future. And if you find out that your bone balance is high, then great- at ease, soldier!

But if it’s low, and if your withdrawals continue unchecked at the same rapid pace, then you will go bust (and bust bones) much sooner than if you take action.

I’m Your Canary in a Coal mine

Hopefully you can benefit from my story. When I learned that my bones were in jeopardy it was hard on my morale, as I thought only very old people had porous bones. But I knew that the only thing harder than knowing (and more dangerous) would have been not knowing.

As it happens, the hard truth gave me motivation and discipline to increase my bone growth. Within a year, with the help of multi-mineral supplements, and by simply altering a few habits, I was (according to a 2nd test) ‘out of the woods’.

What Test is Best?

Being that your skeleton holds the same importance as the scaffolding that keeps a building erect, it’s good to know that there’s more than one way to test it.

Quantitative Ultrasound (QUS) is the machine I was tested with. It’s popular because it is convenient (the machines are more common, and cheaper than full body ones) and done in minutes – without the use of ionizing radiation.

One area is measured (often the ankle, wrist or finger) which gives an indication of your bone density in the rest of your body. However, in certain situations, when further proof is necessary, doctors will recommend to be tested by a…

DEXA Test – the ‘Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry’ test uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are in a portion of your bone. Most commonly tested are bones located in the spine, hip and forearm.

How Does it Work? – the DEXA machine sends low-energy X-rays from two different sources through the bone. The more dense your bone is, the less X-rays get through to the detector. Two different X-ray sources rather than one are used to improve the accuracy in measuring the bone density.(1)

In addition to bone density tests, blood or urine samples may be used for analysis so that disease-related causes for the bone loss can be ruled out.(2)

Time To Bone Up

Our bones unfortunately seem to take a back seat in the car known as ‘Health Care’. Maybe it’s because we can’t see them, or because they naturally seem hard and tough.

But our bones will become thin and brittle due to lifestyle choices – just like our hair and nails. However, because we’re visual creatures, hair care commercials outnumber bone health ones by ten to one…

Though here’s a tip Head & Shoulders doesn’t want you to know: if you really look after your bone health, not only will you avoid painful fractures, but your hair will thrive and shine, regardless of what shampoo you buy!



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This article features advice from our industry experts to give you the best possible info through cutting-edge research.

Lara Pizzorno
MDiv, MA, LMT - Best-selling author of Healthy Bones Healthy You! and Your Bones; Editor of Longevity Medicine Review, and Senior Medical Editor for Integrative Medicine Advisors.,
Dr. Liz Lipski
PhD, CNS, FACN, IFMP, BCHN, LDN - Professor and Director of Academic Development, Nutrition programs in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health.,
Dr. Loren Fishman
MD, B.Phil.,(oxon.) - Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Founder of the Yoga Injury Prevention Website.,
Prof. Didier Hans
PHD, MBA - Head of Research & Development Center of Bone Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital CHUV, Switzerland,