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Preventing Broken Bones

Bones are tough and resilient, but if you push them hard enough—if you fall on a hard surface, for instance—they can crack or break. Common sense and certain safety precautions, however, can head off a trip to the emergency room.

The CDC and other experts offer these safety tips to help prevent broken bones:

  • Wear the right gear when exercising or playing a sport.

  • Make sure your home is safe from hazards that can cause falls.

  • Wear a seat belt when driving and make sure children are secured in safety seats or booster seats, depending on their age.

  • Build up strong bones with good nutrition and exercise. Strong bones are less prone to fractures.

  • Stay in good physical shape, because exercise increases muscle strength and reflex speed.

  • Keep your weight in a healthy range.

These basic precautions can help prevent many of the common bone breaks that show up in hospital emergency rooms every day: wrists and ankles in young or middle-aged people, hips and wrists in older adults.

Sharpening your protective responses, such as reflexes or postural changes, may help stop or break a fall. For instance, when you put your hands out to break a fall, you land on the heel of your hand. The hands absorb the flat impact and the wrist bends as it absorbs the force, resulting in a fracture. And although this may result in a wrist fracture, it is much better than a potentially life threatening hip fracture - especially in the elderly.

Avoiding danger on the home front

Many falls take place in the home. This is especially true for elderly adults, as balance problems, poor eyesight, and brittle bones combine with household hazards to cause bone-breaking falls.

You can reduce the trip-and-fall factor by removing frayed rugs and removing extension cords that could cause a fall. Handrails help steady older adults and children on stairs. Proper lighting lets you see objects on the floor and avoid tripping over them.

Avoiding brittle bones

Strengthening bones is especially important for preteen and teen girls, because women who don't get adequate calcium and vitamin D as teens may be at increased risk for developing osteoporosis later in life. You can work throughout your life to avoid osteoporosis, which makes bones brittle, through adequate calcium intake, exercise, and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and vitamin D.

Calcium requirements change during one's lifetime. The body's demand for calcium is greater during childhood and adolescence, when the skeleton is growing rapidly, and during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Postmenopausal women and older men also need to consume more calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases and National Resource Center, children 9-18 years old need 1,300 mg of calcium each day. People 31 to 50 years old need 1,000 mg per day. Adult males, ages 51 to 70, need 1,000 mg a day, while adult females, ages 51 to 70, need 1,200 mg a day. Both males and females, ages 70 and older, should have a 1,200 mg intake of calcium each day. Pregnant or lactating females, ages 14-18, should have 1,300 mg of calcium per day, while pregnant and lactating women, ages 19-50, should make certain they have 1,000 mg per day.

Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Being out in the sun for a total of 20 minutes every day helps most people's bodies make enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish, and vitamin D-fortified cereal and milk. If you think you need to take a supplement, check with your health care provider.

Treating a broken bone

Doctors still use X-rays to diagnose most broken bones, although more high-tech imaging devices may be used to detect subtle breaks, such as stress fractures. A stress fracture is a tiny fissure in bone often caused by sports overuse.

Most broken bones in an arm, leg, hand, or foot require a cast or splint. Heavy, awkward plaster casts have given way to brightly colored fiberglass casts. These are lighter, easier to apply and remove, and more appealing to children.

In general, fracture repair is directly related to age. So the older you are, the longer it will take to heal.

The type of fracture also dictates recovery speed. A simple fracture heals quicker than a complicated break requiring bone grafts. Research on genetically produced growth-promoting proteins is promising. Such proteins may decrease extensive surgical fracture repairs.