What Is A Fragility Fracture?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a fragility fracture is any fall from a standing height or less, that results in a fracture. Our bodies should be able to sustain a fall from this height, without a fracture, unless there is some underlying cause to suspect a bone disorder, like osteoporosis or osteopenia that weakens our bone structure.

Recently Hillary Clinton fell from a standing height and suffered a fractured elbow; is this a fragility fracture? The answer is yes, unless there was some additional trauma that occurred during the fall.

The most common fragility fractures occur in the spine, wrist, and hip. However, all bones are susceptible to this type of fracture, so take steps to prevent these from happening to you, by having a bone mass measurement.

Most fragility fractures occur in people over the age of 50, but that doesn't mean that those who are much younger can't have this happen to them as well. Younger men and women are diagnosed with osteopenia and osteoporosis in there twenties and thirties everyday, making them at-risk for fracture.

Other types of fragility fractures are those that occur from minor body movement, like sneezing, coughing, stretching beyond you arms length and rolling over in bed.

So what does this mean for you?
If you've had a previous fragility fracture your rate of fracture increases by 4. Treat these fractures as the impetus to have a DEXA scan and treatment to prevent any future fractures if you are diagnosed with low bone mass.

Prevention of fragility fractures includes balancing exercises, weight bearing and functional exercise training with someone who has education in this area. Physical Therapists, with education in bone disorders, are the best place to start to get proper advice and training with exercises designed for those with bone loss.

There are some simple things you can do to prevent fragility fractures. If you've already sustained this type of fracture or if you have low bone mass, take the time to learn some of these preventative measures.

Fractures caused by sneezing, coughing, reaching, or rolling over in bed, can be reduced with the following safety tips.

  • Before you sneeze or cough, slightly bend your knees and brace your upper body by placing your hand behind your back or on your thigh, this will help to protect your spine from the forward movement of your body when sneezing and coughing.

  • Don't stretch for items beyond your reach; instead, use a reacher which will prevent the twisting or straining to reach the object.

  • When you roll over in bed, use the log-rolling method. This movement keeps your upper body and spine straight, like a log, while you roll over with knees bent.

Here's a link to the National Osteoporosis FoundationsGuidelines for Safe Movements with diagrams of the above three safety tips and other safe movement instructions.

Most falls happen when we are rushing, doing several things at once and not paying attention to the ground in front of us. Women, who walk fast and trip, tend to fall in a forward momentum movement causing wrist, arm and elbow fractures.
Falling sideways causes hip and vertebral spine fractures.

High heels and loose fitting shoes often play a role in these types of falls; so if possible limit the amount of time spent in these types of shoes while walking.

Many falls occur from poor balance which can be rectified by implementing a balance routine into your exercise regime. Medication's can affect balance along with poor vision and inner ear problems. Improve your stability by getting involved in a good balance program. These balance classes can be found through the American Physical Therapy Association. To find a class near you, see this link from the APTA to prevent and lower the risk of fragility fractures.

Pam Flores
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Pam Flores

Pam wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Osteoporosis.