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.

The Geriatric Fracture Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

The Geriatric Fracture Program, part of the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care (CCOSC) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is dedicated to the treatment of fractures in older adults and seniors (aged 50 and older), utilizing a team of specialists in multiple disciplines and caregivers. Another priority is the evaluation of patients' bone health in order to provide appropriate osteoporosis treatment to prevent future fractures.

We have created an environment that fosters collaboration between our hospital's well-recognized orthopaedic surgeons and geriatric experts. This team-oriented approach to patient care fosters timely preoperative evaluations, a shorter road to recovery and better overall quality-of-life outcomes. Notably, in the 2018-19 rankings of U.S. hospital specialties, U.S. News & World Report placed Northwestern Memorial Hospital at No. 12 in Orthopaedics and at No. 9 in Geriatrics.

The Geriatric Fracture Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital features orthopaedic surgeons, internists and geriatricians, emergency room doctors, anesthesiologists, physical and occupational therapists, social workers and bone health specialists. Our expertise applies to the multifaceted diagnosis and treatment of:

  • Hip fractures and all fragility fractures/geriatric fractures
  • Fractures or deformities of the spine and extremities
  • Shoulder, hand, foot and ankle injuries
  • Fractures near a previous orthopedic surgery implant or joint replacement
  • Fracture complications

Additional features of the Geriatric Fracture Program:

  • Streamlined admission process with rapid pre-surgical medical evaluation
  • Optimal fracture surgery if necessary, within 24 hours of admission if possible
  • Early mobilization with physical and occupational therapy to ensure faster recovery
  • Pain management appropriate for seniors
  • Reduction in adverse events
  • Improved communication with patients and their relatives
  • Immediate social service involvement to optimize discharge plans and after-hospital care
  • Osteoporosis (or fragile bone) screening and treatment to prevent future fractures
Additional CCOSC locations include:

Northwestern Medicine River Forest
420 Thatcher Ave.
River Forest, IL

Northwestern Medicine Elmhurst
1200 S. York Road
Elmhurst, IL

To schedule an appointment at the CCOSC at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Medicine River Forest and Northwestern Medicine Elmhurst, please call 855.466.7746.

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital offers comprehensive orthopaedic services and performs more orthopaedic surgeries for Lake County residents than any other hospital. More than 30 of Lake County's top orthopaedic surgeons practice at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, and many have specialized fellowship training. They perform leading-edge procedures both in Lake Forest and at the Northwestern Medicine Grayslake Surgery Center, including:

  • Ankle replacement
  • Anterior approach total hip replacement
  • Arthroscopic cartilage regeneration and reconstruction
  • Arthroscopic hip reconstruction
  • Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair
  • Cartilage repair, restoration and transplantation
  • Cervical disc replacement
  • Computer-guided customized knee replacement
  • Elbow disorders
  • Hand surgery
  • Hip replacements, total and partial
  • Knee replacements, total and partial
  • Ligament reconstruction
  • Minimally invasive knee replacement
  • Minimally invasive surgery
  • Orthobiologics (tissue engineering)
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections
  • Reconstruction of the knee, hip, shoulder, foot/ankle, back and hand
  • Shoulder reconstruction and replacement

To schedule an appointment please call 847.535.8500.

Bone Health Clinic

Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics has a fragility liaison service and bone health clinic to focus on osteoporosis. Our primary goal is to keep you from having fragility fractures.

What we do:

  • Discuss your medical history and perform a physical exam to evaluate risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures
  • Coordinate lab and radiology services to assess your bone health
  • When indicated, we prescribe medication to strengthen your bones and help decrease your risk of fracture
  • Educate you about your disease, and teach you about exercise and fall prevention
  • If you have sustained a fragility fracture, we coordinate your care to reduce your future fracture risk and prevent secondary fractures

To schedule an appointment at the Bone Health Clinic, call 630.225.2478.

Integrated Spine Program

The spine specialists from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital offer the latest advances in spine care at convenient office locations in the western suburbs. Including:

Northwestern Medicine Convenient Care Bartlett
Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Carol Stream
Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Geneva
Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Glen Ellyn
Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Naperville
Northwestern Medicine Convenient Care St. Charles
Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Warrenville
Northwestern Regional Medical Group Winfield

Our spine specialists blend innovation and skill to help restore your movement and improve your quality of life. We offer comprehensive back pain management plans to help you overcome spine problems, so you can enjoy life with less pain. The Northwestern Medicine spine specialists are a highly-experienced, collaborative team comprised of board-certified physicians including neurosurgeons, orthopaedic spine surgeons, and physical medicine specialists, as well as nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and chiropractors, all with training and experience in spine, back and neck care.

To schedule an appointment with one of our spine specialists, call 630.933.BACK (2225).