Osteomalacia, derived from the Latin words for soft bone, may be asymptomatic in the early stages. Even when symptoms of osteomalacia are not apparent, the condition can be detected in diagnostic images of the bones. The disease is characterized by a lack of mineralization, which leads to softening and eventual deformation of the bones. Painful bones, muscle weakness and fractures occur as the condition progresses.
The most common symptoms of osteomalacia are pain in the bones, especially those of the lower back, hips, legs and feet since these take the most pressure while standing or sitting. These pains occur equally on both sides of the body and result in a steady aching sensation. The pain worsens during activities or when pressure is put on the bones. Muscle weakness and loss of tone in the arms and legs generally occur as the bones weaken. This makes daily physical activities both difficult and painful.
Eventually, the softened bones deform. Pressure and the force of gravity cause bones to bow and lose their original shape. The long bones of the legs support the body’s weight and their softened flexibility causes them to curve. Problems with the teeth can result from softening of the skull and jawbones. Chest bones may also lose their shape and begin to protrude forward. Growth impairment in children with softened bones is commonly seen.
The weakened bones become susceptible to fracturing in the later stages of this disease. This can occur even with very mild pressure or injury and is one of the most severe symptoms of osteomalacia. Some of the pain and stiffness is due to small fractures in the skeletal bones that can be detected with medical imaging. Other symptoms of osteomalacia are associated with the body’s inability to properly absorb calcium. These include tingling sensations in the hands and feet, muscle tics, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Rickets is a generally more severe form of bone softening found in children who lack Vitamin D. This vitamin is necessary for the body to absorb and utilize calcium, a major component of the bones. Osteomalacia usually refers to the same lack of bone mineralization in adults. The most commonly recognized sign of rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults is bowing of the leg bones. This is due to the softened bones’ inability to retain their shape when stressed by weight.