Osteoporosis is now being recognized as a "silent epidemic" and there is an increasing need to improve its diagnosis and management. Quantitative ultrasound (QUS) measurement [broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA) and velocity] is emerging as an alternative to photon absorptiometry techniques in the assessment of osteoporosis. The fundamental principles governing ultrasound measurements are discussed, and some of the commercially available clinical systems are reviewed, particularly in relation to data acquisition methods. A review of the published in vivo and in vitro data is presented. The general consensus is that ultrasound seems to provide structural information in addition to density. The diagnostic sensitivity of ultrasound measurement of the calcaneus in the prediction of hip fracture has been shown by recent large prospective studies to be similar to hip bone mineral density (BMD) measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and superior to spine BMD. Ultrasound has also been shown to correlate better with the type of hip fracture (intertrochanteric or cervical) than BMD and to provide comparable diagnostic sensitivity to spine BMD in vertebral fractures. It has also been observed that combining the results of both ultrasound and DXA BMD significantly improved hip fracture prediction. Areas where further research is required are identified.