It’s not just a broken wrist, it’s a warning sign

a senior woman with a broken arm in rehabilitation
If you’re over the age of 50 and have broken your wrist after a simple fall, look more closely. It can be a warning sign of more broken bones to come.

Every day thousands of mostly older adults will suffer a broken bone after a relatively minor incident, such as slipping in the bathtub or on the sidewalk. What people don’t recognize is that, even in seniors, it is not normal to experience a fracture after a fall from standing height. In all likelihood the underlying cause of the fracture is a weak and fragile skeleton due to osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Anyone aged 50 years or over who has had such a fracture is a high-risk candidate for ‘secondary’ fractures – they are twice as likely to break a bone as someone who has not fractured. Left untreated, they are vulnerable to a cascade of more serious fractures and possibly a future of pain and long-term disability.

Despite the very real threat of more painful, disabling fractures and loss of quality of life, as many as 80% of fragility fracture patients are never tested or treated for osteoporosis. One reason is that the majority of clinics are not set up to systematically provide osteoporosis assessment and follow-up. In most cases a first fracture, such as a wrist fracture, is simply ‘repaired’ and the patient is sent on her way. 

That’s unfortunate because that first fracture was a ‘warning’ that should have triggered testing and treatment.  Approximately half of the patients who are treated in hospital for a hip fracture - the most serious and even life-threatening type of fracture - have had an earlier fracture of some kind.

Recognizing the importance of preventing secondary fractures, IOF has launched the Capture the Fracture® programme. It encourages clinics and hospitals to set up, or improve existing, fracture liaison services (FLS). An FLS is a model of patient care, with a coordinator (often a nurse) at its centre, which ensures that all fracture patients go through a systematic pathway to receive appropriate testing, treatment and follow up. Successful FLS result in fewer fractures, cost savings for the healthcare system and improvement in the quality of life of patients.

IOF President Professor John A. Kanis urges fracture patients to be proactive:

If you’re 50 years of age or older and have broken a bone after a minor fall you must ask for osteoporosis assessment. With appropriate treatment you can significantly reduce the risk of further painful and disabling fractures.” 

LYB logoThis article appeared in our monthly Love Your Bones newsletter sent to IOF members.

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