Causes and treatment of geriatric fractures

Fractures most often happen when more force is applied to the bone than the bone can take. Bones are weakest when they are twisted. Bone fractures can be caused by falls, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow or kick to the body.

Overuse or repetitive motions can tire muscles and put more pressure on the bone, causing a stress fractures. This is more common in athletes. Fractures can also be caused by diseases that weaken the bone, such as osteoporosis or cancer in the bones.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

The following are the most common symptoms of a fracture. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of a broken or fractured bone may include:

  • Sudden pain
  • Trouble using or moving the injured area or nearby joints
  • Swelling
  • Obvious deformity
  • Warmth, bruising, or redness

The symptoms of a broken bone may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always see a doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history (including asking how the injury occurred) and physical exam, tests used for a fracture may include the following:

  • X-ray: A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make pictures of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An imaging test that uses large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed pictures of structures within the body.
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan): An imaging test that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.

How is a fracture treated?

The goal of treatment is to put the pieces of bone back in place, control the pain, give the bone time to heal, prevent complications, and restore normal use of the fractured area. Treatments may include:

  • Splint or cast: This immobilizes the injured area to keep the bone in alignment. It protects the injured area from motion or use while the bone heals.
  • Medication: This may be needed to control pain.
  • Traction: Traction is the use of a steady pulling action to stretch certain parts of the body in a certain direction. Traction often uses pulleys, strings, weights, and a metal frame attached over or on the bed. The purpose of traction is to stretch the muscles and tendons around the broken bone to help the bone ends to align and heal.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be needed to put certain types of broken bones back into place. Occasionally, internal fixation (metal rods or pins located inside the bone) or external fixation devices (metal rods or pins located outside of the body) are used to hold the bone fragments in place while they heal.

Fractures can take many months to heal as broken bones “knit” back together when new bone is formed between the broken parts.

What can I do to prevent fractures?

Most fractures are caused by accidents, such as falls, or other injuries. But there are some things you may be able to do to decrease your risk of bone fractures, for instance:

  • Follow a healthy diet that includes vitamin D and calcium to keep bones strong.
  • Do weight-bearing exercises help to keep bones strong.
  • Do not use any form of tobacco. Tobacco and nicotine increase the risk of bone fractures and interfere with the healing process.

Osteoporosis is a common cause of fractures in the older population. Talk to your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis and get treatment if you have it.

Meet the Teams

Northwestern Medicine physician Dr. Tyler Koski performing neurosurgery.
The Northwestern Medicine Geriatric Fracture Program is dedicated to the treatment of fractures in older adults and seniors (aged 50 and older). Using a team of specialists in multiple disciplines and expert caregivers, the program’s specialists evaluate the bone health of patients in order to provide appropriate osteoporosis treatment to prevent future fractures.
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