Arm Injuries Expected to Spike in Coming Years as Population Ages

Several hundred thousand U.S. residents visit the emergency room every year because of  arm injuries -- and that number is climbing.


Broken arms send several hundred thousand U.S. residents to emergency rooms each year, and the number may rise by nearly a third by 2030, when the youngest baby boomers will turn 65, according to a U.S. study.

Arm injuries spike among women after 40 and men after 60, likely because of a combination of falls and osteoporosis, and researchers writing in Arthritis Care & Research called for an increase in fracture prevention programs.

A team led by Sunny Kim at the University of California, Davis, looked at data on 28 million emergency room visits across the United States in 2008 and found 370,000 cases of fractures in the humerus bone of the upper arm. Children between the ages of five and nine accounted for the highest overall number of humerus breaks, but the injuries also spiked among older people.

Fully half of the breaks treated in 2008 were near the top of the bone, known as a proximal humerus fracture, an injury often associated with falls. The highest number of these breaks was seen in both men and women after age 45, and rates kept rising until about 84 for women and 89 for men. Women were more than twice as likely to suffer this type of injury, and from a younger age, which researchers attributed to a loss of bone density.

"(Osteoporosis) increases a person's likelihood of sustaining a humerus fracture in a fall and is a well-established risk factor," said Kim, an associate professor of public health sciences at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Though the number of U.S. residents aged 65 or older was 38.7 million in 2008, the number will surge to 71.5 million in 2030.

The researchers project that the number of proximal humerus breaks will rise to 490,000 emergency room visits in that year, with much of the increase likely to be among older people.

The researchers found that 88 percent of upper-arm breaks were caused by falls, prompting them to call for more rigorous safety measures as well as better treatment to prevent osteoporosis.

"I think (the findings are) consistent with a lot of other works in the past few years," said Leon Benson, spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

"An enormous amount of prevention can be done on a consumer level with a number of things that can be done in the homes," he added, noting that this can include the placement of rugs, clutter on the stairs, walking in the dark, and pets. "It really is a matter of the environment you are in."

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