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Airbag Injury

Since the arrival of airbags as a safety-device, reports of trauma (especially forearm fractures) have been documented in the literature. This current article1 reports on a 54-year-old woman with osteoporosis who suffered a forearm fracture when her airbag deployed. Her osteoporosis was a risk factor since bone strength is significantly associated with the risk of airbag-induced forearm fractures.

The patient was turning left with her right forearm across the airbag module door. She suffered a "reverse Colles's fracture of the right distal radius and a nondisplaced fracture of the right ulna styloid process." Her fractures healed uneventfully.

The patient had widespread osteoporosis in her forearm, hip, and spine; the affected areas also exhibited low density. The authors conclude:

"To our knowledge, the bone mineral density of a patient sustaining an airbag-mediated upper-extremity fracture had not been reported previously. Low bone mineral density and the resulting reduction in bone strength may make patients with osteoporosis more likely to sustain fractures from airbag deployment. Such injuries will become more common as the prevalence of airbags in the vehicle fleet increases. The laboratory data suggest that the range of airbag aggressivities overlaps the population fracture tolerance, so that the occurrence of an airbag-induced forearm fracture may be an indicator of low bone strength." 2

They suggest that physicians check bone mineral density in postmenopausal women who suffer arm fracture from airbags, and treat with estrogens or other antiresorptive agents to reduce future fractures.

  1. Huebner C, Reed M. Airbag-induced fracture in a patient with osteoporosis. The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 1998; 45(2): 416-418.
  2. Hardy WN, Schneider LW, Reed MP, et al. Biomechanical investigation of airbag-induced upper-extremity injuries. Technical paper 973325. In: Proceedings of the 41st Stapp Car Crash Conference. Warrendale, Pa: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1997: 131-150.