Walking the Dog: Safety Tips for People with Osteoporosis

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Taking the dog out for a walk is a great way for older adults to be active, but they have higher odds of falling and fracturing a bone than younger dog-walkers. The risk of such fractures is a special concern for older people who have osteoporosis.

Emergency room visits by Americans over 65 who sustain a bone fracture while walking their dogs on leashes have more than doubled between 2004 and 2017, from 1,671 to 4,396, says a recent University of Pennsylvania study that reviewed emergency room data over that period.

Older pet owners often suffered fractures to their fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders. But broken hips were most common, accounting for 17 percent of fractures. Fracturing a hip is of particular concern for older adults since it can lead to long-term disability and increase the likelihood of premature death. Eight in 10 of the injured were women, who are more susceptible than men to bone-thinning diseases like osteoporosis, which increases fracture risk, and are more likely to be pulled by a leashed pet. The researchers, who published their findings in JAMA Surgery, attribute the fracture uptick to more people owning pets and to pet owners who are eager to get more exercise by walking their dogs.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: The actual number of serious injuries sustained from walking a leashed dog is almost certainly more than what the study reported. The researchers measured only emergency room visits, not visits to doctor’s offices or other clinics, and they didn’t include serious injuries other than fractures, such as tendon or muscle damage. On a broader scale, the CDC estimated in a 2009 report that nearly 87,000 falls treated in emergency rooms in an average year are associated with cats and dogs, with the most fractures occurring among people 75 and older. Most falls involved tripping over a pet.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If your dog is hard to control on a leash, consider investing in obedience training, where your pet will learn to follow your commands-and where you’ll learn how to give orders so your dog obeys. At night, walk in well-lit areas so you can see where you’re stepping. Wear sturdy shoes and don’t be distracted, such as by talking on the phone. Be aware of your surroundings, keeping an eye out for anything that might attract your dog’s attention. Don’t wrap the leash around your hand; you won’t be able to release it quickly to avoid a fall if your pet lunges, and the twisted leash could do serious damage to your hand and wrist. Get regular exercise that includes balance training to make it less likely that you’ll lose your footing if your dog pulls you. If you’re considering adopting a dog, think small. A smaller dog is less apt to throw you off balance when he tugs on his leash.

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