To evaluate the influence of extravertebral calcification on spinal bone density determinations, we measured lumbar vertebral density in 71 hospitalized and 58 normal men using dual photon absorptiometry. The extent of vascular and osteophytic calcification was graded from lateral lumbar radiographs. Fifty-five (43%) of the subjects had identifiable osteophytes, and 86 (67%) had vascular calcifications. Despite similar ages and weights in subjects with and without ostephytes, those with osteophytes had greater spinal density (1.34 vs. 1.17 g/cm2; P less than 0.001), and there was a strong correlation between osteophyte severity and spinal density (r = 0.41; P less than 0.00001). Proximal femoral density was not different in those with and without osteophytes. The distribution of osteophytes in this population was not random, and as a result, the presence of osteophytes obscured the the relationship of bone density to age as well as the comparison of hospitalized to normal men. Vascular calcification had a minimal effect on vertebral density. In summary, osteophytic calcification exerted an important influence on the measurement of spinal bone density in men. This effect should be considered in both clinical and research applications of integral vertebral density measures.