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Osteoporos Int. 2019 Aug 21. doi: 10.1007/s00198-019-05067-7. [Epub ahead of print]

Natural history of incomplete atypical femoral fractures in patients after a prolonged and variable course of bisphosphonate therapy-a long-term radiological follow-up.

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Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Singapore General Hospital, Outram Road, Singapore, 169608, Singapore.
Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, Singapore.
Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Singapore General Hospital, Outram Road, Singapore, 169608, Singapore.
Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, Singapore.
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital, Outram Road, Singapore, 169608, Singapore.
Faculty of Mathematics, University of Cambridge, Wilberforce Road, Cambridge, CB3 0WA, UK.


Understanding the natural history of lateral femoral stress fractures helps to guide their management. Improvement in their radiographic characteristics is rare. Progression was generally sequential, most developing an incomplete fracture line before fracture displacement. Stopping bisphosphonates decreased the fracture rate, a feasible management option for lesions without incomplete fracture lines.


Retrospective study evaluating the natural history of lateral femoral stress fractures (FSF) by serial radiography over a variable period of time in a cohort of patients treated for some time with bisphosphonates for osteoporosis, whilst also identifying the fracture response in cases where bisphosphonates were discontinued.


The radiographs of 76 consecutive patients (92 femurs) with 161 FSF were reviewed to document their change over time. Femurs were classified into the following: A-normal, B-focal cortical thickening, C-dreaded black line and D-displaced fracture. Bisphosphonate history was recorded.


66.5% FSF showed group stability between the first and last radiographs: group B (79.1%), group C (45.7%). 28.6% progressed, mostly following an ordered sequence starting from group A, progressing to B, then C, before culminating in D. Progression rate was as follows: A-100% (11/11), B-18.3% (21/115), C-40% (14/35). Regression in FSF was uncommon-5.6% (8/161). 34.8% (32/92) sustained displaced fractures. Kaplan-Meier analysis showed statistically significant difference between the groups; median survival (95% CI): A-4189 (-), B-3383.0 (-), C-1807 (0.0-3788.6) and progression to displaced fracture when bisphosphonate had been stopped for at least 6 months. The group without recent bisphosphonates had a lower group progression rate (17.1%, 12/70). Nevertheless, 10.9% (5/46) progressed to displaced fracture. This group also had the highest proportion of stable (77.1%, 54/70) and regressive lesions (5.7%, 4/70).


In FSF, there is natural progression from normal bone, to focal cortical thickening, to dreaded black line and eventually to displaced fracture. Most lesions persist, remaining static or progressing, especially if a dreaded black line is present and bisphosphonates are continued. Regression is uncommon and more frequent when bisphosphonates are discontinued. Despite stopping bisphosphonates, there remains a 10.9% risk of progression to displaced fracture.


Atypical femoral fracture management; Bisphosphonate; Conservative management; Insufficiency fracture; Osteoporosis treatment; Prophylactic surgery


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