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Insufficiency fracture

Insufficiency fractures are a type of stress fracture, which are the result of normal stresses on abnormal bone. It should not be confused with fatigue fractures which are due to abnormal stresses on normal bone or with pathological fractures, a term usually restricted to focal bony abnormalities such as tumours and metastases.

Epidemiology

In general they are seen in elderly and more frequently in women 2

Pathology

They are most frequently seen in the setting of osteoporosis, although any process which weakens bone is a risk factor. Long-term bisphosphonate use has been associated with insufficiency fractures 5

Risk factors are those of osteoporosis as well as other abnormal bone conditions, including:

Common locations include:

Radiographic features

Early diagnosis is best made with bone scan or MRI, as plain films may initially appear normal.

Plain film
  • initially normal
  • periosteal reaction progressing to callus formation in diaphyseal fractures
  • linear sclerosis and cortical thickening more common in metaphyseal and epiphyseal fractures 2
MRI

MRI is as sensitive as bone scanning but is of higher specificity, both in isolating the exact anatomic location and in distinguishing fractures from tumours or infection.

  • T1
    • low marrow signal
    • enhancement can be prominent
  • T2: high marrow signal with extension into adjacent soft tissues
Bone scan

Increased activity at site of fracture. 

Treatment and prognosis

Treatment depends on the location and whether the fracture is complete or incomplete. Options therefore include:

Treatment of the underlying cause of bone weakness is also essential.

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