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In Elderly Women, Hip Fractures Often Follow Arm Breaks

MONDAY March 2, 2009 -- Elderly women who suffer a broken upper arm are five times more likely than normal to break a hip within a year after the arm fracture, a finding from a new study that might help in efforts to prevent both types of fractures.

"There have been studies in the past showing a relationship between upper arm fractures and hip fractures, but we wanted to determine when that risk is greatest," Dr. Jeremiah Clinton, an orthopedic surgeon and associate professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons news release. "By recognizing when that period of increased risk occurs, physicians have a window of opportunity to take steps that may possibly prevent a subsequent fracture."

The study was published in the March issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

The exact relationship between arm and hip fractures isn't clear, but "there is evidence to support that both fractures stem from similar reactions to a fall," Clinton said. "When patients age, their reflexes slow down, and they may not have the time or ability to correctly position themselves as they fall. Rather than trying to catch themselves as a younger person would do, studies show that elderly people have a tendency to simply tuck and roll, which causes greater force on the shoulder and hip."

Causes of falls among elderly people include: effects of medications, neurological disorders, loss of an ability to maintain balance and decreased reaction time.

"One of the first steps a patient should take following a fall is to talk with their orthopedist and other physicians to determine the cause," Clinton said. "Once the cause is more clearly understood, the proper steps can be taken to decrease a patient's risk of having another fall and potentially future fractures."

Posted: March 2009


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