A hip fracture is a break in the bones of your hip (near the top of your leg). It can happen at any age, although it is more common is people 65 years of age and older. As you get older, the inside of your bones becomes porous from a loss of calcium. This is called losing bone mass. Over time, this weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break. Hip fractures are more common in women, because they have less bone mass to start with and lose bone mass more quickly than men.
Hip fractures usually are caused by a fall. If you fracture your hip, you may experience the following symptoms:
Any time you fall and are unable to get up or stand, call your doctor right away. He or she may take an X-ray to check for hip fracture.
Most people who have hip fractures will need surgery to make sure the leg heals properly. Your doctor will discuss your surgery options with you.
Some people are unable to have hip surgery because of an illness or poor health. If your doctor doesn't think it's safe for you to have surgery, you will be put into traction to help your hip heal. Traction keeps you immobile for a long period of time.
Your doctor can tell you when you should try to stand or walk after surgery. It may be painful to walk at first. You may need a walker or cane for assistance for several months after surgery.
You may need to see a physical therapist as part of your recovery. In physical therapy, you'll learn to sit, stand and walk without reinjuring your hip. You'll also do exercises to help you get stronger.
When you return home after your surgery, you may need some help from a home nurse or family member. Daily tasks may be difficult to perform while you aren't able to move around very well. A family member or nurse can help you with your daily tasks, such as bathing, cooking and shopping.
A hip fracture is a serious injury, but the complications from a hip fracture can be severe or even life-threatening. If you are immobile for a long period of time after your surgery, or if you are in traction, you are at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep inside your body. These clots usually occur in your leg veins. If the blood clot breaks away and travels through your bloodstream, it could block a blood vessel in your lungs. This blockage (called a pulmonary embolism) can be fatal.
Other complications from immobility after hip surgery can include:
To help prevent a hip fracture, you should:
Management of Hip Fracture: The Family Physician's Role by SS Rao, M.D., and M Cherukuri, M.D. (American Family Physician June 15, 2006, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20060615/2195.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff