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J Biomech. 1998 Dec;31(12):1169-76.

Prediction of upper extremity impact forces during falls on the outstretched hand.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital, 94110, USA.


Among the most common causes of upper extremity fracture is a fall on the outstretched hand. Yet few data exist on the biomechanical factors which affect injury risk during this event. In this study, we measured impact forces during low-height (0-5 cm), forward falls onto the outstretched hand, and found that these are governed by an initial high-frequency peak and a subsequent, lower-frequency oscillation. This behavior was well-simulated by a two-degree-of-freedom, lumped-parameter mathematical model. Increases in body mass caused greater increases in the peak magnitude of the low-frequency component (Fmax2) than the high-frequency component (Fmax1). However, increases in fall height more strongly influenced Fmax1, which exceeded Fmax2 for all but very low fall heights. Model predictions suggest that fall heights greater than 0.6 m carry significant risk for wrist fracture, since above this height, peak forces surpass the average fracture force of the distal radius. Finally, while the shoulder experiences lower peak force than the wrist (since Fmax1 is not transmitted proximally), it undergoes considerably greater deflection, and thereby absorbs the majority of impact energy during a fall.

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