To study the relationship between osteoarthritis (OA) and osteoporosis (OP), radiographic osteoarthritis lesions of the hands (HOA) were quantified in 300 healthy women, aged 75 years or more, as a subgroup of a cohort originally recruited for a multi-centre study of risk factors for femoral neck fracture. The HOA combined score (i.e. the sum of the grades of joint-space narrowing, osteophytes, erosions and joint misalignment), the osteophytosis score and the joint-space narrowing score were calculated on a radiograph of both hands. Bone mineral density (BMD) was measured using dual-energy X-ray absortiometry (Lunar DPX) at the femoral neck, Ward's triangle and the total body. BMDs of the total spine, lumbar spine, and the upper and lower limbs were derived from the regional analyses of the total body measurement. Correlations between bone mass, HOA scores and other variables were explored by multiple linear regression and stepwise logistic regression analysis. The HOA combined score was positively correlated with increasing age but not with body mass index. In the multiple regression analyses the HOA combined score positively correlated with BMD and the joint-space narrowing score. According to stepwise logistic regression and after off adjustment of BMD for age, women with an HOA combined score higher than 20 had significantly higher BMD values at all skeletal sites. Sixty-nine women (23%) reported a history of osteoporotic fracture; among them, 20 (6.6%) reported a history of vertebral fracture. The OA score of both subgroups was significantly lower than that of women with no history of fracture. These data suggest that in elderly women the severity of HOA is positively correlated with bone mass and that women with a higher score of HOA more rarely report a history of osteoporotic fracture.