What are Pathological Fractures?
Pathological fractures are broken bones in an area already weakened by another disease, not by an injury. Some underlying diseases can weaken the bones making them brittle and eventually causing a fracture or break in the bone.
Diseases Causing Pathological Fractures
Common diseases that cause pathological fractures include:
- Osteoporosis: A condition in which your bone starts to deteriorate and becomes too porous.
- Cancer: An abnormal cell growth on the bones, eventually weakening them and causing a break.
- Osteomalacia: A disease that softens the bones through the deficiency of vitamin D, thereby negatively impacting calcium absorption.
- Osteomyelitis: A bone infection.
- Other potential causes can be:
- Noncancerous tumors and cysts (lumps or swellings)
- Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease (a genetic disorder)
Signs and Symptoms
Pathological fractures may or may not have symptoms, but may include the following:
- Mild to severe pain near the fractured bone
- Pain in your back, legs, and arms
- Tenderness, bruising, and swelling near the broken bone
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness near the broken bone
- Numbness and/or weakness in your legs and/or arms
What If the Condition is Left Untreated?
If untreated, pathological fractures may lead to functional decline and risk of disability.
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and evaluate your medical history followed by an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan depending on your specific condition. Certain laboratory tests may be performed to assess calcium levels, and a biopsy (examination of tissue) may be performed to determine the exact cause of the fracture.
The treatment usually depends on the underlying medical condition. The initial treatment could be as simple as resting and avoiding the activities that stress the affected area.
Other potential treatment options include:
- Use of a cast, splint, plate, or brace
- Pain medications
- Radiation therapy
If the fractures are caused by a disease that makes them hard to heal, your doctor may opt for surgical procedures such as internal fixation or fusion.
The risk of pathological fractures can be reduced by:
- Early treatment of underlying conditions
- Low-intensity or less demanding activities
- Performing weight-bearing exercises regularly as instructed by your doctor
- Taking adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium