Pathologic Fracture: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention


A pathologic fracture is a broken bone caused by a disease, instead of an injury. Some diseases tend to weaken the bones and make them easier to break. For people with a pathologic fracture, they may break their bones with coughing, bending over and other daily activities.

According to statistics, in the United States, about 6.8 million Americans come to medical attention because of fractures on an annual basis. Among all cases, about 50% of vertebral fractures and 3% of hip fractures are pathologic.

And it is estimated that pathologic fractures occur in 8% to 30% of patients with bone metastases. Normally, 50% of pathologic fractures happen in the femur and 15% of them happen in the humerus. Moreover, 80% of patients with pathologic fractures are with breast, kidney, lung, or thyroid cancer.


Basically, pathologic fractures are caused by the underlying disease, such as osteoporosis, tumors, osteomalacia, and osteomyelitis.

Most frequently, the condition is caused by tumors. When the cancerous tumor spread to other parts of the body, the vertebrae are most likely to be affected. The cancer cells invade bones and weaken them, eventually causing them to break.

Osteoporosis is a disease that tends to make your bones weak and brittle. This condition is most commonly seen in older adults, especially older women.

Osteomalacia is a condition that softens the bones. This condition arises from a lack of vitamin D, which hinders the absorption of calcium. As a result, bone health is damaged and the bones become easier to break.

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection, which may sometimes cause a pathologic fracture as well.

Apart from the above-mentioned diseases, other conditions like infection and Paget’s disease may also lead to pathologic fractures.


In fact, pathologic fractures don’t always have signs and symptoms. And in some cases, pathologic fractures may share similar symptoms with the underlying disease that causes the condition.

Common signs and conditions of pathologic fractures may include the following:

  • Pain near the broken bone
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling near the broken bone
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness in the arms and legs


In order to identify the broken bone, a physical examination will be performed in the beginning. The doctor will determine which the exact broken bone is by asking the patient to do certain movements.

Then, after taking a complete medical history, the doctor will order some imaging tests. X-rays test, MRI scans, CT scans or nuclear bone scans can provide detailed images of the bones and tissues, thus helping the doctor to visualize the specific situation.

Moreover, to make sure what the underlying disease is, a biopsy and other lab tests may also be done to check if there is an infection or the existence of tumors.


How to treat pathologic fractures depends on the underlying disease. Mainly, the goal of treating pathologic fractures is to ease pain and neurological symptoms as well as stabilize the spine.

According to different situations, different treatment methods may be recommended by the doctor. In some cases, the doctor may advise the patient to wear a cast or a splint to help the broken bone to heal. Besides, pain relievers are likely to be prescribed to ease the symptoms.

Under the conditions that the fracture is caused by osteoporosis, the patient usually needs to take calcium and vitamin D supplements.

However, in more serious cases, surgery may be required too. When the fracture causes instability in the spinal column, a spine surgery such as spinal fusion may be recommended so as to lift the pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

All in all, the doctor will tailor a treatment plan for each patient according to different underlying causes. If you have the above-mentioned symptoms, you should discuss the situation with your doctor so as to receive the best treatment.


Pathologic fractures can’t be prevented all the time. But to reduce the risk of developing the condition, the doctor may offer some suggestions, such as:

  • Do exercises on a regular basis
  • Take calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Using assistive devices
  • Refrain from high-intensity activities

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.