Atypical subtrochanteric femoral shaft fractures: role for mechanics and bone quality
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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:220 doi:10.1186/ar4013Published: 29 August 2012
Bisphosphonates are highly effective agents for reducing osteoporotic fractures in women and men, decreasing fracture incidence at the hip and spine up to 50%. In a small subset of patients, however, these agents have recently been associated with 'atypical femoral fractures' (AFFs) in the subtrochanteric region or the diaphysis. These fractures have several atypical characteristics, including occurrence with minimal trauma; younger age than typical osteoporotic fractures; occurrence at cortical, rather than cancellous sites; early radiographic appearance similar to that of a stress fracture; transverse fracture pattern rather than the familiar spiral or transverse-oblique morphologies; initiation on the lateral cortex; and high risk of fracture on the contralateral side, at the same location as the initial fracture. Fracture is a mechanical phenomenon that occurs when the loads applied to a structure such as a long bone exceed its load-bearing capacity, either due to a single catastrophic overload (traumatic failure) or as a result of accumulated damage and crack propagation at sub-failure loads (fatigue failure). The association of AFFs with no or minimal trauma suggests a fatigue-based mechanism that depends on cortical cross-sectional geometry and tissue material properties. In the case of AFFs, bisphosphonate treatment may alter cortical tissue properties, as these agents are known to alter bone remodeling. This review discusses the use of bisphosphonates, their effects on bone remodeling, mechanics and tissue composition, their significance as an effective therapy for osteoporosis, and why these agents may increase fracture risk in a small population of patients.