Walking a dog provides older Americans with a valuable outlet for regular physical activity, but it also has led to an increase in fractures: A Penn Medicine study published by JAMA Surgery has shown that fractures related to dog walking more than doubled between 2004 and 2017 in patients age 65 and older. In this population, 78% of fractures occurred in women, with hip and upper extremity fractures being the most common.
The rise in injuries in this population is a result of 2 trends, the researchers said: increased pet ownership and a greater emphasis, in recent years, on physical activity at older ages.
“Dog walking, which has repeatedly demonstrated social, emotional, and physical health benefits, is a popular and frequently recommended activity for many older Americans seeking new ways to stay active,” said the study’s lead author Kevin Pirruccio, a second-year medical student in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“This study highlights that while there are undoubtedly pros to dog walking, patients’ risks for falls must be factored into lifestyle recommendations in an effort to minimize such injuries.”
The researchers reviewed all fractures in the 65-and-older population related to “pet products” in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. The entries the team found included roughly 100 participating hospitals’ emergency departments and 32,624 cases in the US, overall.
Fracture injuries linked to walking leashed dogs were found to have increased 163%, from 1,671 cases in 2004 to 4,396 in 2017. Approximately half of the injuries involved upper extremities, with fractures of the wrist, upper arm, finger, and shoulder being the most common in that category. The single most common fracture, however, was of the hip, accounting for 17% of injuries in the database.
Although these numbers are sobering, the researchers believe their count of dog-walking injuries may actually be low. The study only examined reported fractures among emergency department patients. Debilitating tendon or muscle damage were not included in the study, nor were injuries, including fractures, among older adults who refuse treatment or sought other avenues of care.
Senior author Jaimo Ahn, MD, PhD, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Penn Medicine, said he and his colleagues aren’t discouraging older adults from walking dogs or owning them. But they hope their study, and others that build off it, will provide the basis for deeper considerations about the risks everyone faces as they grow older.
“Everyday actions mean everyday consequences,” Dr. Ahn said. “While it is important for medicine to sometimes focus on the rarer but devastating conditions such as cancer and heart attacks, we also have to remember that understanding and improving the little things in life can have a dramatic, positive effect.”
Pirruccio K, Yoon YM, Ahn J. Fractures in elderly Americans associated with walking leashed dogs. JAMA Surg. 2019 May 1;154(5):458-459. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2019.0061.