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Bone. 1996 Jan;18(1 Suppl):77S-86S.

Etiology and prevention of age-related hip fractures.

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Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Charles A. Dana Research Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA USA. wch/


Falls and fall-related injuries are among the most serious and common medical problems experienced by the elderly. Hip fracture, one of the most severe consequences of falling in the elderly, occurs in only about 1% of falls. Despite this, hip fracture accounts for a large share of the disability, death, and medical costs associated with falls. As measured by their frequency, influence on quality of life, and economic cost, hip fractures are a public health problem of crisis proportions. Without successful international initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of falls and hip fractures, the implications for allocations of health resources in this and the next century are staggering. Identifying those at risk for harmful falls requires an understanding of what kinds of falls result in injury and fracture. In elderly persons who fall, in most of whom hip bone mineral density is already several standard deviations below peak values, fall severity (as reflected in falling to the side and impacting the hip) and body habitus are important risk factors for hip fracture and touch on a domain of risk entirely missed by knowledge of bone mineral density. These findings clearly suggest that factors related to both loading and bone fragility play important roles in the etiology of hip fracture. We provide a strategy, based on engineering approaches to fracture risk prediction, for determining the relative etiologic importance of loading and bone fragility and to summarize some of what is known about both sets of factors. We define a factor of risk, phi, as the ratio of the loads applied to the hip divided by the loads necessary to cause fracture and summarize available data on the numerator and the denominator of phi. We then provide an overview of the complex interplay between the risks associated with the initiation, descent, and impact phases of a fall, thereby suggesting an organized approach for evaluating intervention efforts being used to prevent hip fractures. The findings emphasize the continuing need for combined intervention strategies that focus on fall prevention, reductions in fall severity, and maintaining or increasing femoral bone mass and strength, either through targeted exercise programs, optimal nutrition (Ca, Vitamin D), and/or in the use of osteodynamic agents. By developing and refining the factor of risk, a property that captures both the contributions of bone density and the confounding influences of body habitus and fall severity, we believe these intervention strategies can be targeted more appropriately.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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