Closeup of man on crutches being helped to walk by a physical therapist

A study found there is a notable link between older adults who have trouble walking and being at risk for fracture. The authors also found that the risk for fracture can increase depending on the trouble a person has walking longer distances, according to the report released Tuesday in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers evaluated self-reported data on people’s difficulty walking different distances under 1,000 meters (a little over half a mile) and the risk for a fracture within five years. The team asked people if they had limitations walking 100 meters, 500 meters and 1,000 meters. 

The team assessed data from 266,912 people over the age of 45 during an average follow-up period of 4.1 years. Participants had an average age of 61, and 53% of them were females. Of all the people who participated, 20% reported that they had some limitations walking 1,000 meters or less. Walking limitation affected about one in five of the people surveyed and was frequently associated with known fracture risk factors, the authors reported.

During the follow-up period, 7,190 women and 4,267 men experienced fractures. The researchers specifically looked at hip, vertebral and non-hip vertebral fractures. About 60% of fractures could be attributed to walking limitations. People who reported that they had a little and a lot of limitations had a higher risk for fractures, the data showed. 

The link between walking issues and fractures was significant for all fracture types, ranging between a 21% increase to more than a 219% increase. The rise in risks was independent of known fracture risk factors such as older age, history of falls or prior fracture.

The association between walking ability and fracture risk climbed significantly for each degree of limitation (such as reporting a little limitation compared to a lot of limitations). The link rose between different distances and classifications of limitations; that is, some people reported more limitations based on how long they walked.

“These findings suggest that walking ability should be sought by clinicians to identify high-risk candidates for further assessment,” the authors wrote.