Osteomalacia is a condition that refers to the softening of the bones, usually brought on by a lack of vitamin D. In children, this condition is commonly referred to as rickets. When one’s bones are soft, they are more prone to fractures than the harder, healthier bones.
Not to be confused with osteoporosis, which is a disease that can also lead to bone fractures; osteomalacia is a result of a defect in the bone-building process. Two major indicators of osteomalacia are aches in the bones and weakness in the muscles. Treatment requires restoring the low levels of vitamin D and calcium and addressing any other problems that might be contributing to these deficiencies.
The dull, aching feeling in the bones usually affects the lower spine, the pelvic region, and the legs. The patient may notice a decrease in muscle tone, some weakness in the arms and in the legs, and getting around as usual may become more difficult.
Our bodies need calcium and phosphate to build strong bones. Without enough of these minerals in one’s diet, or if one’s body does not effectively absorb them, osteomalacia may present. The causes of this may include an insufficient exposure to sunlight. When we sit in the sun, vitamin D is produced in our skin. We need this vitamin so that our bodies can process the calcium. For those individuals who spend little time in the sun or who wear strong sunscreen and remain fully covered while outside, or who live in areas where the sunlight hours are short or where the air is full of smog, may increase their likelihood of developing osteomalacia.
If one’s diet is low in vitamin D, osteomalacia is a concern, especially in those areas of the world where foods such as milk and cereal are not fortified with vitamin D as they are in the United States.
Certain surgical procedures, such as the removal of part or all of one’s stomach can contribute to the onset of osteomalacia, as the stomach serves to break down foods to release the vitamin D. Even surgery that requires the removal of the small intestine can create conditions prime for osteomalacia to develop.