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How does a Bone Density scan work?.

DEXA Bone Density Scans are the current state-of-the-art in bone density measurement and the key tool in the measurement of osteopenia and osteoporosis.

They are pain-free, accurate and have very low radiation—even lower than the radiation involved in a Chest Xray.

Since 2007, government funding for DEXA for scanning of people over the age of 70 has meant better treatment for older adults with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Other people who should be screened include:

  • Anyone with a Fracture that occurred without much trauma
  • Patients on long-term Steroid treatment
  • Patients with conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chronic Liver or Kidney Disease, Hyperthyroidism, Malabsorption, Hypogonadism


What about the DEXA Scan Machine?


You may hear these scans also referred to as a "DEXA scan." Monitoring bone density is an important consideration for many of my clients. You may have read in our blog post here, that exercise can play a powerful role in improving bone density in certain individuals.

We know it's an important test to take at the right time, and thankfully we feel its one of the nicer scans to have! So we thought we’d allay any concerns you may have about having your bone density checked, and explain exactly what’s involved.

The Machine
The Machine consists of a comfortable bed, with a beam that will move across your body when you are appropriately positioned.
The good news is, it’s pretty quiet! And pretty comfy! It is not unusual for people to drift off for a quick nap whilst getting their test done.

The Scan
It's actually better than you would think! Initially the attendant will check that you have removed any clothing with metal. Think belt buckles, jeans ect. Metal items will definitely effect your scan results so we make sure we get these out of the way! Your attendant will then ask you to lie on your back and make sure you are comfortable. The 3 sites typically scanned are the lower back, hip and forearm. The good news is that typically, only 2 sites are needed at any given time. So dependent on what area is being tested, your attendant will move your legs and hips into particular positions. But don’t worry, all the positions are pretty relaxing! The beam will then pass on top of you and take the image we need. Each scan would take no longer than 2-3 minutes at a time. Nice and quick. Although you are exposed to radiation when having your bone density scan, it is less than what you are exposed to taking a flight to Perth or having a Chest Xray.

The Results
We get the results pretty much straight away. Your attendant will need to spend a little time after the scan making small edits to the image and making sure they have captured exactly the right areas. But again this is something that doesn’t take too long. No more than 5 minutes in my experience. Your results will be classified as either normal, osteopenic or osteoporotic. Its is common to have slightly different results at different sites.

Your bone density test results as well as the outcome from the FRAX tool are formulated into a report. The report is then forwarded to you, your GP, and/or whoever referred you to have the scan.\


Other facts
When having your bone density tested, it's important to remember where you went for your first scan. Due to the different type of DEXA machines out there, we always advise that its best to keep repeat scans being performed by the same machine to minimize error.

Bone Density is an important consideration for many of my clients. Hopefully the piece above helps clarify what to expect if you ever need to get it tested. 

If you have already had your bone density tested, do you agree with my sentiments? Was your bone density scan quick and comfortable?


An effective way to track your progress

DEXA scans are the gold standard in terms of assessing an individual’s body composition. At BJC Health we use GE Lunar Technology and the scan is able to differentiate between different types of tissue in the body.

Body Composition scans are an effective way to track your progress and evaluate the effectiveness of different nutritional and exercise interventions.

The scan itself is a simple and non-invasive procedure that will give you accurate results without the human error that can be prevalent in girth measurements and skin folds.

From every total body DEXA scan you will be provided with the following information;

  • Total body fat percentage
  • Total body bone mineral density
  • Total body muscle mass (kg)
  • Total body fat mass (kg)
  • Muscle and fat percentage of regional body parts (important for addressing assymetries)
  • Android Fat Percentage (around the waist)
  • At BJC Health Parramatta, our DEXA technicians have been well trained to help analyse and communicate your results to you.

Mostly Exercise Physiologists themselves, we can ensure your scan will be thoroughly explained to you so you can accurately interpret your results.

Our exercise physiology initial consults now incorporate Body Composition Scans as part of the consult.

DOWNLOAD - Body Composition Testing Package

The total consult will now last 60 minutes and included in this is a thorough assessment outlining your goals, expectations and important outcome measures as well as a reduced fee body composition scan.

Getting baseline measures of where you are at just like having blood tests or jumping on the scales are essential.

We hope you appreciate this new initiative which will allow you to achieve your goals sooner.


About Body Composition Tests

There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week about people being 'skinny fat'; where people of an apparent healthy weight are simply just skinny, not healthy. Also, just because someone in the overweight category is such, does not mean that they are necessarily unhealthy.

There is a variety of ways of undertaking body composition tests. One of the tools we have in our clinic is our DEXA machine, which is the gold standard for this. It is not uncommon for someone who is traditionally placed in the 'overweight' category, according to BMI to show low body fat levels, paired with high muscle mass levels, just as often someone of apparently normal weight has high fat mass.

What does the research say? Use of DEXA for body composition analysis is the current gold standard, however some factors can affect reliability/validity of results. In particular, what is known as 'biological noise'. A recent paper by Nana et. al (2013) indicates the importance of keeping everything as much 'the same' as possible. Minimal clothing, fasted and well rested if possible provides the most accurate results in the research setting. Food, fluid, exercise and clothing may all affect results.

In practice, we adhere to this as well as we can. Clients strip down to underwear and make use of a hospital gown for each analysis. Where possible, we ask clients to be fasted and rested, however this is not always possible. Instead, we aim to make this as much 'the same' as possible, for example if you are only able to come in on a Monday afternoon for your initial scan, then we ask for you to do the same for any follow ups, and keep your activity level and food intake as similar as possible as well.

But why is it important do do this? Why not just jump on the scales? Does it really matter? My favourite thing about the scan is it lets us see really clearly exactly where a person is at in relation to fat mass and muscle mass. Particularly, if the number on the scales hasn't change much, it helps us to see what has changed, which in this case would usually be an improvement in muscle mass, and reduction in fat mass. Carrying excess fat mass can adversely affect general health, and in some conditions, make symptoms worse (excess fat mass is pro-inflammatory). Further more, it can be very motivating to make the changes you need to make to improve your health, and in some cases, is a necessity for the sport to keep fat mass in check.


Exercise can be beneficial to you and at BJC Health we do our best to make exercise available to you anywhere.




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