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What is a fragility fracture?

What is a fragility fracture?

Dr. Caronis greets a patient at his final visit, nearly a year after surgery to repair a fragility fracture. Always the best day in the ortho office when the patient is able to stand up and walk out independently!

Our bodies undergo inevitable consequences of aging. One of the most significant that impacts the musculoskeletal system is thinning of the bone associated with aging and decreased levels of hormones that protect the bone’s integrity. Fragility fractures, those small or sometimes devastating fractures that occur with minimal trauma, are the consequences of osteoporosis or “porous bone.”

As an orthopedic trauma and fracture specialist, I regularly see the consequences of poor bone quality. I treat middle-aged and elderly patients, particularly women, on a daily basis for fractures sustained from a simple slip and fall that occurs without excessive force or trauma.  Sometimes the injury is an uncomplicated wrist fracture or broken bone in the foot that heals with casting or bracing. On other occasions, I’m called to the emergency department for treatment of a fractured hip that represents a serious, sometimes life-threatening injury, particularly in an elderly patient.

Many people do not realize that bone is a living tissue made up of calcium and protein. Our bones undergo a constant process of remodeling and when more bone calcium is absorbed that what is replaced, the overall density of the bone suffers and the bone becomes weaker – increasing the risk of a fracture.

Osteoporosis often develops in women after menopause but it also occurs in elderly men. Estrogen, which declines after menstrual periods cease, is important for maintaining bone strength. When the bone is thin, there is a significantly greater risk for broken bones, particularly fractures of the hip, wrist and spine. A gradual loss of bone mass occurs after age 35, with women ultimately losing 30 to 50 percent of their bone density.

When the hip is fractured, it usually breaks just below the hip joint. These are serious injuries as mobility and independence can be quite limited. Hip fractures require surgery, hospitalization and often an extended rehabilitation. It is not uncommon for people who previously lived independently, to require assistance afterward; or for those who were walking unassisted, to require a cane or walker for ambulation.

According to the National Bone Health Alliance, there are nearly 2 million fractures in the United States each year related to osteoporosis. As a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, I embrace the “Own the Bone” program which encourages surgeons to identify patients who have suffered a fragility fracture or who might be at risk and ensure that they are appropriately evaluated and treated.

Dr. Gregory Caronis is a board-certified Lake County orthopedic surgeon with Advocate Medical Group Orthopedics, Advocate Condell Medical Center. A specialist in disorders of the foot and ankle and fracture care, Dr. Caronis also practices general orthopedics and sees patients in Libertyville and Gurnee. For orthopedic questions or to schedule an appointment call AMG Orthopedics at (847) 634-1766.

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About the Author

Dr. Gregory Caronis
Dr. Gregory Caronis

Dr. Gregory Caronis is a board-certified Lake County surgeon with Advocate Medical Group Orthopedics and Advocate Condell Medical Center. A specialist in disorders of the foot and ankle and fracture care, Dr. Caronis sees patients in Gurnee, Lincolnshire and Libertyville.