• Osteoporosis;
  • ultrasonography

Ultrasound of the calcaneus may be used as a cheap, ionising radiation-free and easy to use indicator of skeletal status, and hence of osteoporotic fracture risk. At present ultrasound is not widely used as it suffers from high precision errors. As ultrasound parameters are determined in part by bone mineral density (BMD), an increase in the accuracy and precision of BMD measurements should reduce the precision error associated with ultrasound measurements. The aim of this study was to define an anatomical site on the calcaneus at which accurate and precise measurements of BMD can be made. Ten dry calcanei and 10 cadaveric feet were scanned using a DXA scanner; 9 anatomically defined regions (1 cm2) were selected in the posterior part of the calcaneus for analysis. The centre of region 1 was positioned halfway along the line joining the anterior border of the calcaneal tubercle and the peak of the posterior superior tubercle, and the remaining 8 regions were placed around this central area. The BMD in these 9 regions was compared with the whole bone BMD and the variability of BMD within each of the 9 regions was measured. The reproducibility of the technique was assessed by taking 10 repeated measurements of 2 bone and 2 cadaveric specimens, each specimen being removed and repositioned between measurements. Region 1 was found to be the most representative of total BMD in cadaveric feet. This region also showed the least variability of BMD and consistently gave the lowest coefficients of variation in the reproducibility study both in the bone and the cadaveric specimens. This region is hence the most suitable site on the calcaneus for measuring absolute values of and changes in BMD. The surface position of region 1 was found to be consistently 5/9 along the line at 45° to the vertical, from the lateral malleolus to the heel. The identification of the surface location of region 1 relative to anatomical landmarks of the foot has enabled the same anatomical site to be measured in all subjects. This allows meaningful intersubject comparisons to be made. Preliminary data suggest that precision errors using ultrasound are also reduced when measurements are taken at this region of the calcaneus. The reduction in the precision error of ultrasound assessment of skeletal status may provide a cheap and safe way to identify individuals at risk from osteoporotic fracture.