Hip Fractures

Family Doctor Logo

What is a hip fracture?

A hip fracture is a break in the bones of your hip. Your hip is located near the top of your leg. Hip fractures can happen at any age. However, it is more common in people 65 and older. It also is more common in women. That’s because women often have a disease that weakens bones. This is called osteoporosis.

Symptoms of a hip fracture

If you fracture your hip, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in your hip or groin area
  • Discomfort when trying to move or rotate your hip
  • Bruising and/or swelling in your hip area
  • Unable to put weight on your hip
  • Unable to walk
  • The injured leg may look shorter than the other leg. It may turn outward

What causes a hip fracture?

Most hip fractures are caused by a fall. Other causes include cancer and injury. Women break their hip more often than men. That’s because women often have a disease that weakens bones. It is called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is caused by not having enough calcium to maintain healthy bones. As you get older, your risk for a hip fracture will increase. As men and women get older, they lose bone mass. Bones become brittle and break easily.

How is a hip fracture diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, pain and if you’ve fallen or been injured. He or she will order an X-ray to check for hip fracture.

Can a hip fracture be prevented or avoided?

Several things can help reduce or prevent a hip fracture, including:

  • Get plenty of calcium from foods (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, sardines and broccoli).
  • Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. He or she can tell you how much to take.
  • Exercise to keep your bones and muscles strong.
  • Don’t drink or smoke.
  • Get outside in the sun (with sunscreen). The sun helps your body produce its own vitamin D.
  • Have your vision checked once a year. Eye diseases as you get older can affect your ability to see. This can lead to falls.
  • Use a cane or walker if your doctor suggests it. This will help your balance and help you avoid falls.
  • If you are a woman, get screened for osteoporosis.
  • Talk to your doctor about medicines that can improve your bone health.
  • Make your house safer. This includes:
    • Good lighting (also add nightlights in the bedroom, hallways, stairs and bathrooms)
    • Fasten rugs with nonskid backing. Tack down loose ends that curl up
    • Keep electrical cords picked up and out of the way
    • Install hand rails in the shower, bath and toilet area. Add hand rails to each side of your stairs.

Hip fracture treatment

Most people who have hip fractures will need hip surgery. This will involve anesthesia and a hospital stay. The length of the stay depends on your health and the severity of the break.

Some people are unable to have hip surgery because of illness or poor health. When this happens, your doctor may consider putting you into traction. Traction uses a medical device to keep you from moving and walking. The length of time you are in traction depends on the severity of your break.

After surgery, you may have a long recovery. Your doctor will tell you when you should try to stand or walk. It may be painful to walk at first. You may need a walker or cane for several months.

You may need to see a physical therapist after surgery. This is a medical provider who will teach you how to properly sit, stand and walk without reinjuring your hip. You’ll receive exercises to do at home. You also may need some home care for daily tasks. This includes bathing, dressing, cooking, errands, etc.

Your doctor would discuss hip replacement if your fracture was severe and permanent.

Living with a hip fracture

Complications from a hip fracture can be severe and life-threatening. While you are immobile, you are at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). 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 travel to your lungs. This can be fatal.

Other complications from after hip surgery can include:

  • Pressure sores (deep sores on your skin that can become infected)
  • Pneumonia
  • Muscle wasting or atrophy (your muscles become smaller and inactive)
  • Urinary tract infections

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I tell the difference between a hip fracture and sprain?
  • How can I avoid getting a pressure sore?
  • Should I wear compression stockings after surgery?
  • Does menopause affect bone health?