Study examines role of testosterone, exercise in hip injuries

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Health & Fitness section on Monday, June 6, 2005)

It appears the older we get, the more we fall, and the more disabling the injuries from those falls.

Statistics from the National Center for Injury and Prevention Control, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that more than one-third of all adults over 65 fall every year. Three to 5 percent of those accidents cause fractures, with the most common breaks occurring in the vertebrae and hip.

Overall, 338,000 people are hospitalized for hip fractures annually, a number that rises dramatically with age. Seniors over 85 are 10 to 15 times more likely to break their hip than those in the 60 to 65 age group. Medicare costs for this injury alone top $2.9 billion a year.

Because hip fractures can leave formerly high-functioning, independent people markedly disabled, local researchers are looking at whether hormone supplements can improve outcomes.

Dr. Ellen Binder, a geriatrician at Washington University School of Medicine, is enrolling volunteers in a study that combines intense exercise therapy with daily doses of testosterone. Both men and women over 65 who’ve broken their hip or have had hip replacement surgery in the past five months are candidates.

Male volunteers must perform weight strengthening exercises under medical supervision three times a week. Women in the study are instructed to exercise on their own. Both men and women are asked to apply a gel to an area of the skin once a day. One group is given a gel containing testosterone, the other a placebo. Neither doctors nor patients know whether they’re getting the real hormone or a placebo.

Muscle strength is carefully measured, and all participants are closely monitored for side effects. Testosterone supplements can cause nausea and changes in hair growth. Side effects go away once the supplements are stopped.

According to Binder, medical research has already proved that intensifying and lengthening sessions of physical therapy following a hip fracture can improve functioning in patients.

“But we’d like to see patients improve even more, and so we’re looking at whether combining replacement doses of a hormone that’s lacking can affect muscle and bone, and augment the effects of exercise,” said Binder.

The theory is that testosterone supplements will help older patients recover the muscle strength necessary to walk without assistance, and maybe even live independently again.

Another study will begin soon in healthy older people to see if exercise and testosterone supplements offer any preventive benefits. For more information on the testosterone supplement study, call 314-286-2716.

Kay Quinn is an anchor and reporter at KSDK (Channel 5).

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.