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Hip Fracture


Topic Overview

Picture of the skeletal system

What is a hip fracture?

A hip fracture is more than a broken bone. If you are older, breaking your hip can mean a major change in your life. You will likely need surgery, and it can take as long as a year to recover. Activity and physical therapy can help you get your strength and mobility back. You are likely to need support from family or a caregiver as you recover.

Most hip fractures happen to people who are 65 or older. If you are in this age group, you need to be extra careful to avoid falls. Most people break their hip near the upper part of the thighbone (femur)Click here to see an illustration.. It usually happens near where the thighbone fits into the hip joint.

What causes hip fractures?

Falls cause most hip fractures in older adults. As you get older, your bones naturally lose some strength and are more likely to break, even from a minor fall. Children and young adults are more likely to break a hip because of a bike or car accident or a sports injury.

Other things that increase your risk of breaking your hip include:

  • Being female.
  • Your family history—being thin or tall or having family members who had fractures later in life.
  • Poor eating habits. Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D can weaken bones.
  • Not being active. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, can help keep bones strong.
  • Smoking.
  • Medical conditions that cause dizziness or problems with balance, or conditions such as arthritis that can interfere with steady and safe movement.
  • Taking certain medicines that may lead to bone loss.

What are the symptoms?

It is hard to miss the symptoms of a hip fracture. You will most likely have severe pain in your hip or lower groin area. You probably will not be able to walk or put any weight on your leg.

These symptoms would be most likely after a fall. But if you have very thin bones from osteoporosis or another problem, you could break your hip without falling. In rare cases, people have only thigh or knee pain. They may be able to walk.

How is a hip fracture diagnosed?

Doctors use X-rays to diagnose a broken hip. If your doctor thinks that you have a fracture but cannot see it on an X-ray, you may need an MRI, a CT scan, or a bone scan.

How is it treated?

You will probably need surgery to fix your hip. Surgery usually works well, but you will need to be patient. Getting better will probably take a long time. And you may never be able to get around as well as you could before.

The type of surgery you have will depend on where the break is and how bad it is. Your doctor may put metal screws, a metal plate, or a rod in your hip to fix the break. Or you may need to have all or part of your hip replaced.

Your doctor will want you to start moving as soon after surgery as you can. This will help prevent problems such as pneumonia, blood clots, and bed sores. These things may happen because you have to stay in bed so long.

After your surgery, it will be hard for you to do things yourself. You may need to go to a nursing home or rehabilitation center for a while after your surgery. But the more active you can be in your care, the faster you will get better.

How can you prevent a hip fracture?

There are many things you can do to prevent a hip fracture. One of the most important is to prevent osteoporosis. This disease can happen to men or women. But it is more common in women.

To slow or prevent osteoporosis:

  • Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Eat foods high in calcium. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods have lots of calcium. Dark green vegetables, some seafood, and almonds are also good. If you want to take calcium and vitamin D supplements, talk to your doctor about how much you need to take.
  • Avoid alcohol, and do not smoke.
  • Do weight-bearing exercise that puts pressure on bones and muscles. Walking is a good choice.
  • Some people need to take medicine to slow osteoporosis.

Preventing falls is also very important.

  • Arrange furniture so that you will not trip on it.
  • Get rid of throw rugs, and move electrical cords out of the way.
  • Be sure you have good lighting where you are walking.
  • Put grab bars in showers and bathtubs.
  • Outside of your home, avoid icy or snowy sidewalks.
  • Wear shoes with sturdy, flat soles.
  • Get your eyes checked.
  • Avoid too much alcohol.
  • Exercise to help keep your strength and balance.
  • Take medicines only as directed and periodically review your medicines with your primary care doctor, especially if you have more than one doctor. Some medicines, such as sleeping pills or pain relievers, can increase your risk of falling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about fractured hips:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

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