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In adolescents, loss of bone mineral mass usually occurs during phases of reduced physical activity (PA), such as when an injured extremity spends several weeks in a cast. We recorded the PA of adolescents with lower limb fractures during the cast immobilization, at 6 and at 18months after the fracture, and we compared these values with those of healthy controls.
Fifty adolescents with a first episode of limb fracture and a control group of 50 healthy cases were recruited for the study through an advertisement placed at the University Children’s Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland. PA was assessed during cast immobilization and at 6- and 18-month follow-up by accelerometer measurement (Actigraph® 7164, MTI, Fort Walton Beach, FL, USA). Patients and their healthy peers were matched for gender and age. Time spent in PA at each level of intensity was determined for each participant and expressed in minutes and as a percentage of total valid time.
From the 50 initial teenagers with fractures, 44 sustained functional evaluations at 6months follow-up, whereas only 38 patients were studied at 18months. The total PA count (total number of counts/min) was lower in patients with lower limb fractures (-62.4%) compared with healthy controls (p<0.0001) during cast immobilization. Similarly, time spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA was lower by 76.6% (p<0.0001), and vigorous PA was reduced by 84.4% (p<0.0001) in patients with cast immobilization for lower limb injuries compared to healthy controls values. At 6 and 18months after the fracture, the mean PA level of injured adolescents was comparable to those of healthy teenagers (-2.3%, and -1.8%, respectively).
Importantly, we observed that time spent in vigorous PA, which reflects high-intensity forces beneficial to skeletal health, returned to similar values between both groups from the six month follow-up in adolescents who sustained a fracture. However, a definitive reduction in time spent in moderate PA was observed among patients with a lower limb fracture at 18months, when comparing with healthy controls values (p=0.0174).
As cast immobilization and reduced PA are known to induce bone mineral loss, this study provides important information to quantify the decrease of skeletal loading in adolescents with limb fractures. The results of this study demonstrate that the amount of skeletal loading returns to normal values in adolescents with lower limb fractures after bone healing and is probably linked to an overall better pattern of functional recovery among this age group. When comparing both populations of adolescents, a definitive decrease in time spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA was observed among patients with a lower limb fracture at 18months and may suggest a modification of lifestyle. The high rate of missing data (26.5%) due to above all non compliance with monitor wearing among teenagers complicates the data analysis, and requires a more cautious interpretation of the results. Future studies using accelerometer to monitor PA in adolescents should therefore include strategies for improving the rate of adherence and minimizing the ratio of missing data.