Osteoporosis (Juvenile)


Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’. It occurs when the struts which make up the mesh-like structure within bones become thin causing them to become fragile and break easily following a minor bump or fall. Bone growth during childhood and the teenage years is very important as the skeleton grows to achieve full adult height.

When osteoporosis occurs it is usually as a result of one of several different medical conditions, or medication. It is also possible that no underlying cause is found and the term idiopathic juvenile (under 16 years of age) osteoporosis is used to describe this.


Medical text written December 2012 by Dr M Al Obaidi, Consultant Paediatric Rheumatologist, R Harrison, Research Nurse, Academic Unit of Child Health, Dr P Arundel, Consultant in Metabolic Bone Diseases, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms will vary from child to child, but may include:

  • pain in the bone often in the back, hips, legs and feet
  • difficulty in walking
  • fractures (broken bones) in the long bones of the skeleton and in the spine
  • curvature of the spine (scoliosis), or a height loss where the bones in the spine have become squashed or misshapen.

What are the causes?

Primary juvenile osteoporosis is described as bone density loss in a previously healthy child/teenager with a history of bone breaks (arms, legs or spine) for no apparent reason. It is ‘idopathic’ because there is no known cause.

Secondary juvenile osteoporosis occurs due to other reasons such as another illness or a medication. Including:

How is it diagnosed?

Juvenile osteoporosis may be discovered when other problems are investigated, such as fractures or difficulty walking. Children will probably be referred to a specialist for further assessment, which can include:

  • X-rays to examine the skeleton for fractures
  • dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) – bone density scans to assess the degree of bone density loss. Sometimes other types of scan are used, such as quantitative computerised tomography (QCT or CT)
  • bone biopsies, removal of a small amount of bone tissue, to look at the internal structure of the bone.

How is it treated?

Parents of children with osteoporosis will be advised to ensure the child has a well-balanced, calcium-rich diet and do plenty of weight-bearing exercise. Physiotherapy may be advised in some children to aid mobility.

Some children may need medication that is used in adults with osteoporosis but at smaller doses. Examples include bisphosphonate (drugs that affect the bone cells and the ongoing process of bone renewal) or forms of vitamin D to influence the body’s absorption of calcium. Monitoring will be needed to check the child’s bone density and how the condition is progressing in light of treatment.

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns
Juvenile osteoporosis has been recognised as more likely to occur in some families, but a genetic cause has not been fully established.

Prenatal diagnosis
Not applicable.

Is there support?

Royal Osteoporosis Society

Helpline: 0808 800 0035
Email: info@theros.org.uk
Website: theros.org.uk

The Society is a Registered Charity in England and Wales No. 11022712. It offers information and support to anyone affected by osteoporosis, including providing information about osteoporosis in children. The Society has a network of support groups across the UK. 

Group details last updated June 2021.

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