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Baillieres Clin Rheumatol. 1997 Aug;11(3):495-515.

How can we measure bone quality?

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  • 1Osteoporosis and Arthritis Research Group, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


Osteoporosis is a systematic skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and microarchitectural deterioration of bone tissue. This leads to diminished biomechanical competence of the skeleton and is associated with low-trauma or atraumatic fractures. In the past decade, considerable progress has been made in the development of methods for assessing the skeleton non-invasively, so that osteoporosis can be better managed. While dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is still the preferred methodology, several limitations will be addressed. Another densitometric technique which is widely accepted for diagnosis of spinal osteoporosis is single energy QCT. Measurements of vertebral trabecular bone mineral density (BMD) demonstrate larger percentage decrements between vertebrally-fractured subjects and normal controls, and confer higher relative risks for vertebral fracture than either anteroposterior or lateral DXA measurements. As an emerging alternative to photon absorptiometry techniques, there is a growing interest in the use of quantitative ultrasound (QUS) measurements for the non-invasive assessment of osteoporotic fracture risk in the management of osteoporosis. The attractiveness of QUS lies in the fact that indirect and in vitro experience has suggested that ultrasound may give information not only about BMD but also about architecture and elasticity. Whether or not combining QUS and DXA improve fracture prediction is still unclear and needs further analysis. Due to the growing evidence supporting the use of QUS in osteoporosis and the large number of QUS devices already on the market, a general clinical consensus on the application of QUS is urgently needed. Other techniques that are less widely used for the management of osteoporosis. For example, peripheral quantitative computed tomography, quantitative magnetic resonance (QMR) and magnetic resonance microscopy are promising tools for the evaluation of the skeleton. For example, the ability of QMR and high resolution magnetic resonance imaging has been explored and shows promise as a technique for assessing trabecular bone structure in osteoporosis.

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