What is a hip fracture?

A hip fracture occurs when there is a break in the upper quarter of the thighbone and is a serious injury that requires professional diagnosis and treatment.

Since hip fractures can develop complications that may be life threatening, it’s important to seek medical assistance as soon as possible to ensure that the injury is properly diagnosed, and treated in a timely manner.

Older adults are more apt to suffer a hip fracture than any other group primarily because of the natural weakening of bones. This bone weakening is called osteoporosis. Taking steps to maintain bone density and prevent falls can help prevent hip fracture.

What causes hip fractures?

The most common cause of hip fracture is falling. As you get older, your bones naturally tend to weaken and are more susceptible to breaks, even from a minor fall. Children and young adults are more likely to break their hips because of a blunt trauma from a bike or car accident or a sports injury.

Common Risk Factors for Hip Fracture

  • Being female
  • Family history of being tall and thin, or having family members who had fractures later in life
  • Poor eating habits and lack of calcium and Vitamin D
  • Being inactive
  • Smoking
  • Medical conditions that cause dizziness, imbalance, or conditions like arthritis that can interfere with safe movement
  • Taking certain medicines that can cause bone loss

What are the symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of a hip fracture include:

  • Inability to move immediately after a fall
  • Severe pain in your hip or lower groin area
  • Inability to walk or put weight on your leg
  • Stiffness, bruising and swelling in and around your hip area

In rare cases, people only feel thigh or knee pain. Sometimes hip fractures can occur without a fall if your bones are very thin or fragile. Most people break their hip near the upper part of the thighbone (femur) and it usually happens where the thigh bone fits into the hip joint.

It is important to call an ambulance and seek immediate medical care if you experience any of these symptoms.

Effects of Hip Fracture

If a hip fracture keeps you immobile for a long period of time, you may develop complications such as blood clots in your legs or lungs, bed sores, urinary tract infection or pneumonia. It is important to keep all of your doctor appointments and report any new symptoms or illnesses during the recovery process.

How is a Hip Fracture Diagnosed?

Doctors use X-rays to diagnose a broken hip, but you may need an MRI, CT scan, or a bone scan if you have a fracture that is not visible through an X-ray.

Most hip fractures occur in one of two locations along your femur:

  • The femoral neck, which is located in the upper portion of your femur, just below its head, which is the ball part of the ball-and-socket joint.
  • The intertrochanteric region, which is farther down from the actual hip joint, in the portion of your upper femur that juts outward.

Women who have been through menopause and have a hip fracture may also have osteoporosis or be at risk for it. A bone mineral density test will provide early detection and lead to fracture treatment and prevention.

How are Hip Fractures Treated?

The goal of hip fracture treatment is to allow you to do, without pain, most of the things you were able to do before your fracture.

Most hip fractures require a combination of surgery or replacement, rehabilitation and medication. Surgery is often performed within 24 hours after diagnosis to decrease the possibility of complications, but in some cases, is delayed 1 to 2 days due to treatment of other medical problems like heart or lung conditions to ensure a safe surgery.

The type of surgery depends on where and how bad the break is. Surgery may include one of the following:

  • Internal Fixation: Surgeons may insert metal screws, plates or a rod in your hip to stabilize and repair the break. This type of surgery is often used for patients that have fractures in which the bones can be properly aligned.
  • Hip replacement surgery (arthroplasty): Arthroplasty includes replacing part or all of the joint with artificial parts. If the ends of the broken bone aren’t properly aligned, a partial metal replacement (prosthesis) is installed. Total hip replacement is another option if arthritis or a prior injury has previously damaged your joint.

Bone density-enhancing medication (bisphosphonates) may be prescribed to reduce the risk of another hip fracture.

What to expect after surgery

After treatment, you may need to spend time in a nursing home or rehabilitation center in order to recover and regain your strength to perform everyday activities independently. You may need to use a walker, crutches or cane for several months after treatment. It is important to regularly move around as soon as possible after surgery in order to speed up the recovery process.

How can you prevent a hip fracture?

There are many ways to reduce your risk of a hip fracture, including:

  • Keeping your bones healthy and strong.
    • Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet with adequate Vitamin D and calcium will strengthen your bones and prevent break.
    • The recommended daily calcium intake for adult men and women is between 1,000 and 1,200 mg per day. Women who do not get this amount of calcium from food each day may take calcium supplements. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt; dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli; and other foods.
    • The National Institutes of Health recommends 400 to 800 IU of Vitamin D per day. Do not take more than 800 IU per day unless your doctor prescribes it, because large doses of vitamin D may be harmful. You can get the amount of vitamin D you need each day by eating a variety of dairy products. You also will get the amount of vitamin D you need if you are outside in sunlight for at least 15 minutes each day.
    • Regularly being physically active and performing weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, helps increase bone density.
  • Avoid falls.
    • Use caution when taking medications with side effects including dizziness and imbalance.
    • Eliminate fall-hazards in your home such as rugs, electrical cords and excess furniture.
    • Use non-slip mats and install a grip bar in the shower.

Related Topics

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Other Helpful Resources

Mayo Clinic
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