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‘Postural sway’ doubles older women’s fracture risk

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Researchers have shown that ‘postural sway’ is a risk factor for bone fractures in postmenopausal women.

Postural sway is the tendency of the human body to sway while standing upright. It’s already known to be associated with falls, which in turn are an important risk factor for fractures. However, this study is the first to confirm that postural sway is an independent fracture risk factor.

The study from the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital found that women with the highest postural sway had double the fracture risk compared to women with the lowest postural sway. Those who also had low bone mineral density had an even greater fracture risk.

The research was based on the OSTPRE (Kuopio Osteoporosis Risk Factor and Prevention Study) cohort which was initiated in 1989 in order to study bone mineral loss, falls and fractures in postmenopausal women. The cohort consisted of 14,220 peri- and postmenopausal women, and postural sway was measured in 1,568 participants during 1994-97. The women were followed up for a period of 15 years, with fracture data collected through questionnaires and hospital records.

Results published in Journal of Bone and Mineral Research show that women with the highest postural sway had a two times higher risk for any fracture and for osteoporotic wrist, upper arm, spine or hip fracture compared to women with the lowest postural sway. A combination of high postural sway and low bone mineral density resulted in a five times higher overall fracture risk and an 11 times higher osteoporotic fracture risk compared to the low-risk group. Higher weight was also a significant fracture risk factor, the researchers noted.

With further research, postural sway could be incorporated into a fracture risk estimation tool — helping in the early identification of older people who are at greater risk of having a fracture.