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Osteomalacia prevents your bones from hardening. Find out more about the symptoms and how it’s treated.

What is osteomalacia?

Osteomalacia is also known as ‘soft bones’. It causes bone pain, soft or weak bones and poor growth.

Osteomalacia symptoms

The most common osteomalacia symptoms in adults are:

  • Fragile bones that break or fracture easily

  • Tiredness

  • Bone pain in the rib, hip, pelvis, thigh and foot

  • Stiffness

  • Finding it hard to walk upstairs or get up from sitting

  • Muscle weakness in your thighs and arms

  • Walking with a side-to-side stride

What causes osteomalacia in adults?

The most common causes of osteomalacia in adults is a lack of vitamin D (adults need at least 10 micrograms a day), or your body cannot absorb vitamin D properly.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from your diet, which is essential for your bone health. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, supplements, or certain foods.

It’s thought that more than 50% of the adult population in the UK don’t have enough vitamin D in their body.

Your body’s ability to absorb and use vitamin D can be affected by:

  • Surgery that removes part of your intestines or stomach, like a gastric bypass which can result in intestinal malabsorption

  • Coeliac disease

  • Liver disorders like cirrhosis

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Seizure medications, like phenytoin, carbamazepine and phenobarbital

Osteomalacia diagnosis

Some tests your GP might recommend to diagnose osteomalacia include:

  • Blood tests and urine tests to check the level of vitamin D in your body

  • X-ray or MRI scans of your bones to review their structure

  • A bone density scan (DEXA scan) to check the amount of phosphate and calcium in your bones

  • A bone biopsy, where a piece of bone tissue from your pelvic bone will be removed with a needle under general anaesthetic and tested for signs of vitamin D deficiency

Osteomalacia treatment

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: