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.

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

They are most often 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

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

  • vertebral (crush or wedge) fractures: very common.
    • marrow edema is limited to the vertebral body, extension of abnormal signal into the pedicles suggests an underlying lesion
  • sacrum: H sign
  • neck of femur
  • proximal third femur (see article: bisphosphonate-related proximal femur fractures) 5
  • pubic rami
  • sternum 3

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

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

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
  • T2: high marrow signal with extension into adjacent soft tissues
  • C+ (Gd): enhancement can be prominent
Nuclear medicine

On bone scan, there is increased activity at the site of the fracture.

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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Article information

rID: 1505
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Insufficiency fractures

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Cases and figures

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    Figure 1: pelvic insufficiency fractures
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    Case 1
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    Case 2: calcaneal insufficiency fracture
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    Dynamics and bloo...
    Case 3
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    Case 4: osteoporotic lumbar fractures
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    Case 5
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    Case 6: tibial plateau
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    Case 7: bilateral on SPECT
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