Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate in the body. This may happen due to:

  • Lack of sun exposure so the body cannot make vitamin D
  • Not eating enough foods with vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorous
  • Problems in the body that keep it from absorbing vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate
  • Genetic problems, such as vitamin D-resistant rickets

Risk Factors

Rickets is more common in children who:

  • Are 6 to 24 months of age
  • Have darker skin

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Breastfeeding without vitamin D supplementation
  • Lack of sun exposure
  • Vegetarian diet without vitamin supplements
  • Health issues such as Celiac disease or cystic fibrosis
  • Being born very early
  • Having a mother with vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy
  • Taking medicines that affect how the body absorbs or uses vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorous



A person with rickets may have:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Bowed legs
  • Bone pain in the back, pelvis, and legs
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Skeletal or skull deformities


The doctor will ask about the child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect rickets.

The diagnosis may be confirmed with:

  • X-rays
  • Blood tests



The underlying cause will need to be treated. The goals of treatment are to ease or reverse symptoms.

Vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate supplements will be given. Children with severe symptoms may need surgery to correct any changes to their bones caused by the rickets.


To lower the risk of rickets:

  • Encourage children to eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Allow children to spend some time in the sunlight. Fifteen minutes a day is usually enough. Any longer than that needs sun protection.
  • Breastfed babies and bottle-fed babies who do not get enough vitamin D fortified formula may need to be given a supplement.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.