Muscle loss causing higher number of fragility fractures

December 21, 2015

Topic: fragility fractures

Researchers from the University of Southhampton found that people who were mildly active or not active at all tended to have a greater chance of falling, as well as experiencing orthopaedic injuries such as fragility fractures.

Over time, many older adults experience gradual muscle loss. This is usually because of a condition called sarcopenia, where muscles slowly deteriorate and atrophy. Often, this condition occurs because older adults simply are not active anymore for one reason or another. They might have taken a harsh fall that landed them in recovery, or they simply have stopped doing small activities they used to enjoy. Yet this manifestation isn't good, and can cause a reduced quality of life for older adults.

Researchers from the University of Southampton found that people who were mildly active or not active at all tended to have a greater chance of falling and experiencing orthopaedic injuries such as fragility fractures. Certain fractures, such as hip injuries, can cause people to be even less active and may increase their mortality risk. The findings were published in the journal Calcified Tissue International.

"An estimated 30 to 60 percent of people between age 40 and 80 have sarcopenia."

Getting to know sarcopenia
Of course, it is important to remember that sarcopenia does not affect all of the elderly population. Rather, this condition just seems to affect the inactive, beginning at around age 40. Approximately 30 to 60 percent of the population between the ages of 40 and 80 have sarcopenia. The number of people with the condition can range given the amount of disabilities and sicknesses that occur each year. Sarcopenia can affect people who are consistently active into old age if they are injured and experience limited movement for several months, which can cause muscles to naturally weaken. Active people may also not return to the physical hobbies they appreciated once before because of the effects from the injury.

Because of the multitude of factors that can cause sarcopenia, it can be difficult to determine one solution, the researchers noted. 

"All of these definitions recognize that measuring muscle mass in isolation is inadequate and a measure of muscle function is also required, but there are differences in how function is assessed," said lead study author Dr. Michael Clynes. "Due to these differences, an individual may receive different diagnosis depending on how he or she is assessed. This is important because the better we can identify sarcopenia, the more insight we have into the health issues and risks patients face."

Staying active is one great way to stave off sarcopenia. Staying active is one great way to stave off sarcopenia.

Understanding causes
The researchers looked at a group of people between the ages of 72 and 80 to figure out what factors most commonly led to falls and fractures. The findings revealed that the International Working Group (IWG) definition for sarcopenia helped best identify participants with the condition and determined that people with sarcopenia were the most likely to experience falls and fractures compared to people who walked slowly or who had osteoporosis. While the results revealed that people who walked slower or were not as active had issues staying balanced and subsequently fell more, they did not necessarily break bones as much as participants with sarcopenia. 

The study authors concluded that physicians should use the working definition of sarcopenia to determine whether people have the condition or not.

"The IWG definition of sarcopenia appears to be an effective means of identifying individuals at risk of adverse musculoskeletal events, such as falls and fracture," Dr. Clynes noted. "The findings enable us to more effectively predict those at increased risk of falls and fractures. By defining sarcopenia, health care professionals can target treatment to at-risk individuals." 

Hopefully this research and other studies will help physicians understand this condition and its causal factors better. Research has suggested that people who have existing health conditions are more likely to experience sarcopenia, and that people who also have osteoporosis are at a higher risk of falling. 

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