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An Ounce of Prevention vs. A Pound of Cure

Preventing or Managing Bone Fractures

As much as we want to avoid trips to a clinic, fractures are unfortunately common. Most of us will experience two bone fractures in our lifetime. Understanding the risks is an important first step for defending your health.

What kinds of fractures are there?

While there are a wide variety of different kinds of broken bones, fractures generally can be sorted into four main categories: complete, incomplete, compound and simple.

Complete and incomplete fractures describe the way the bone breaks. A complete fracture occurs when the bone is broken into two or more distinct, separate pieces.  Incomplete fractures, as the name implies, crack but do not completely break.

Compound fractures also are known as open fractures. This describes an injury where the bone breaks through the skin. Simple fractures are closed fractures, where no open wound is visible on the skin.

Who is at risk?

Regardless of demographic, anyone can break a bone under the right (or wrong!) circumstances. Not everyone experiences the same risk factors, however.

Kids, whose bones are still forming, are prone to playing hard and unintentionally putting themselves at risk. Often, when a child experiences a fracture, it is in their arm or wrist, since it is a natural reaction to hold out an arm to break a fall.

Very young children may have difficulty verbalizing what is wrong after a bone fracture. After a child experiences a trauma, parents need to watch for clear signs of pain and an unwillingness or inability to move an injured limb. If you suspect your child has broken a bone, contact your pediatrician immediately.

While a broken bone is painful and upsetting, children heal quickly compared to adults. If properly treated, your child will recover soon! On the other end of the spectrum, fractures are a much more serious concern.
Individuals over the age of 50 who experience a fracture should consult with their doctor immediately about the possibility of osteoporosis. Half of women and a quarter of men over 50 will experience a bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis itself is rarely lethal, but the complications from fractures can increase the risk of death in older individuals. More than 250,000 hip fractures can be attributed to osteoporosis annually in the United States. Generally speaking, women who suffer a hip fracture are twice as likely to die within a year of the injury. Women between ages 65 and 69, however, are five times as likely! The prolonged immobility caused by these injuries can result in blood clots or pneumonia, which can be fatal.

In addition to age, body weight, family history, and tobacco use also can increase the likelihood of osteoporosis.

What can be done to prevent bone fractures?

Bone health, like anything else, is easier to maintain than to repair. Healthy diet and exercise are incredibly important.

Osteoporosis and nutrition are linked. Calcium-rich diets can reduce the risk of fractures by improving bone health. Vitamin D needs to be included as well, as it allows your bones to absorb calcium.

While it may seem counterintuitive, less activity increases the likelihood of a fracture. Sedentary lifestyles are not safe ones, since weakening bones and atrophying muscles can lead to falls. Falls cause 90% of hip fractures. Regular daily exercise builds the strength needed to prevent falls and minimize damage if a fall does occur.

How is bone health tested?

If you or your doctor believe you are at risk of a bone fracture, a DEXA machine can be used to determine your current bone health. The DEXA machine uses x-rays to measure your bone density and will give a diagnosis of either osteoporosis (extremely low bone mass), osteopenia (low bone mass), or healthy bone.

If you are concerned about your bone health or your doctor refers you, the South Texas Fracture Prevention Clinic can help you assess your bone health. To schedule your initial visit, call (210) 495-9047.

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