NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Broken arms send several hundred thousand Americans to emergency rooms each year, and a new study suggests that number could rise by nearly a third by 2030, when the youngest baby boomers will have just turned 65.
Researchers looked at data on 28 million ER visits across the U.S. in 2008 and found 370,000 cases of fractures in the humerus bone of the upper arm. Kids between the ages of 5 and 9 accounted for the highest overall number of humerus breaks, but the arm injuries also spiked among women after age 40 and men after age 60.
Sunny Kim of the University of California, Davis, and her colleagues report in Arthritis Care & Research that 38.7 million Americans were 65 or older in 2008, but in 2030, that number will be 71.5 million. They project 490,000 ER visits for humerus breaks in that year, with much of the increase likely to be among older Americans.
In 2008, Kim’s team found, fully half of the breaks treated in ERs were near the top of the bone, known as a proximal humerus fracture, an injury often associated with falls.
The highest number of proximal humerus breaks was seen in both men and women after age 45, and rates kept rising until about age 84.
Women were more than twice as likely as men to suffer a proximal humerus break, and saw an uptick in the breaks earlier in life, starting after age 40, which the researchers attributed to lost bone density.
“(Osteoporosis) increases a person’s likelihood of sustaining a humerus fracture in a fall and is a well-established risk factor,” said Sunny Kim, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of public health sciences at the School of Medicine at University of California, Davis, in an email.
Breaks near the elbow were the second most common upper-arm fracture, and children under age 15 accounted for almost 65 percent of those.
The researchers found that 88 percent of upper-arm breaks were caused by falls, prompting them to call for more rigorous safety measures to reduce falls and better treatments to prevent osteoporosis.
“I think (the findings are) consistent with a lot of other works in the past few years,” said Dr. Leon Benson, spokesperson 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,” Benson added.
Benson said the placement of rugs, clutter on the stairwell, walking in the dark and pets can all be hazardous and result in falls.
For his own parents, Benson said he put a cordless phone in every room of their home to cut down on the distance they’d have to walk, and installed nightlights to illuminate their floors.
“It really is a matter of the environment that you are in,” said Benson.
SOURCE: bit.ly/u9WAg7 Arthritis Care & Research, Online December 12, 2011.