In My Hands, There’s a Dog Leash

As a journalist covering symposia at the 2019 AAOS Annual Meeting last week, I repeatedly heard the phrase “in my  hands…,” referring to a surgeon’s individual experience with this or that technique. That got me to thinking about a research letter published in the March 6, 2019 issue of JAMA Surgery. This retrospective cross-sectional analysis of emergency department data revealed that the annual number of patients ≥65 years old presenting to US emergency departments with fractures associated with walking leashed dogs more than doubled during 2004 to 2017. Women sustained more than three-quarters of those fractures, and while the hip was the most frequently fractured body part, collectively, the upper extremity was the most frequently fractured region. Slightly more than one-quarter of those patients were admitted to the hospital.

The authors rightly pinpoint the “gravity of this burden”; the hip-fracture data alone are worrisome. And in a related online article by hand and wrist surgeons from Rush University Medical Center (titled “Doggy Danger”), the focus is on the many injuries that the human leash-holding apparatus can sustain. The authors of the JAMA Surgery research letter and the Rush authors offer common-sense advice for all us older dog walkers out there, including:

  • Dog obedience training that teaches Bowser not to pull or lunge while on leash
  • Selection of smaller dogs for older people contemplating acquiring a canine companion
  • Holding the leash in your palm, not wrapping it around your hand
  • Paying attention to where you walk, and being situationally aware (That means not texting while your dog is momentarily sniffing to see who peed on that post.)
  • Selecting footwear that is appropriate for the terrain and environmental conditions during your walk

To these tidbits I would add finding a safe area where your dog can “be a dog” off-leash, preferably with other dogs and people. Socializing is good for both species, and most dog trainers and owners agree that “a tired dog is a good dog.”

The research letter states that a “risk-benefit analysis with respect to dog walking as an exercise alternative is essential,” and the authors do a concise job of quantifying fracture risk and suggesting risk-reduction strategies. The list of benefits from dog walking is too long to itemize here; suffice to say that the advantages run the gamut from physical to mental to spiritual. But let’s be safe and sensible out there. We owe it to our families (dogs included, of course) and to all those overworked orthopaedic trauma surgeons to stay on the sidewalks and in the forests and fields–and out of the ER.

Lloyd Resnick
JBJS Developmental Editor

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