A broken hip is a fracture in the upper portion of your thighbone, or femur. Your hip is a joint, which is a point where two or more bones come together. The top of your femur and part of your pelvic bone meet to form your hip. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is the head of the femur and the socket is the curved part of the pelvic bone called the acetabulum. The hip’s structure allows more range of movement than any other type of joint. For example, you can rotate and move your hips in multiple directions. Other joints, such as the knees and elbows, allow only limited movement in one direction.
A broken hip is a serious condition at any age. It almost always requires surgery. In addition, complications associated with a broken hip can be life-threatening. If you suspect a broken hip, seek medical attention immediately.
A hip fracture usually occurs in the ball portion (femur) of your hip joint and can occur in different places. At times, the socket (acetabulum) can become fractured.
Femoral Neck Fracture
This type of break occurs in the femur about 1 or 2 inches from where the head of the bone meets the socket. A femoral neck fracture may cut off the blood circulation to the ball of your hip by tearing the blood vessels.
Intertrochanteric Hip Fracture
An intertrochanteric hip fracture occurs farther away from the joint and doesn’t stop blood flow to the femur. The break may be about 3 to 4 inches away from the joint.
This fracture affects the ball and the socket portions of your hip and can also cause tearing of the blood vessels that go to the ball.
Potential causes of broken hips include:
- falls to a hard surface or from a great height
- blunt trauma to the hip, such as from a car crash
- diseases such as osteoporosis, which is a condition that causes a loss of bone tissue
- obesity, which leads to too much pressure on the hip bones
History of Broken Hip
If you’ve had a broken hip, you’re at a much greater risk for another broken hip.
If you’re 60 years or older, you may be at increased risk for breaking your hip. As you age, the strength and density of your bones may deteriorate. This can leave you vulnerable to fractures because weak bones can break easily. Advanced age often brings vision and balance problems, as well as other issues that make you more likely to fall.
Healthy diets include a variety of nutrients that are important for your bone health, such as protein, vitamin D, and calcium. If you’re not getting enough calories or nutrients from your diet, you can become malnourished. This can put you at risk for fractures. Research has found that older adults who are malnourished have a greater risk of a hip break. It’s also important for children to get enough calcium and vitamin D for their future bone health.
If you’re of Asian or Caucasian descent, you’re at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
If you’re a woman, your chances of breaking your hip increases because you’re more susceptible to osteoporosis than a man.
The symptoms for a broken hip can include:
- pain in the hip and groin area
- the affected leg being shorter than the unaffected leg
- an inability to walk or put weight or pressure on the affected hip and leg
- inflammation of the hip
Your doctor may notice the obvious signs of a broken hip, such as swelling and bruising or a deformity. However, to make a correct diagnosis, they may order special tests to confirm the initial assessment.
Imaging tests help your doctor locate fractures. They may order X-rays to take pictures of your hip. If this imaging tool doesn’t reveal any fractures, your doctor may use other methods, including the following:
- MRI may show a break in your hip bone better than X-rays. This imaging tool can produce many detailed pictures of the hip area. Your doctor can view these images on film or on a computer screen.
- CT is an imaging method that can produce pictures of your hip bone and the surrounding muscles, tissues, and fat.
Your doctor may take your age and physical condition into consideration before making a treatment plan. If you’re older and have medical issues in addition to a broken hip, your treatment may vary based on these factors.
Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to reduce your discomfort.
Surgery is the most common treatment to repair or replace your hip. Hip replacement surgery involves removing the damaged part of your hip and putting an artificial hip part in its place.
If you have surgery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you recover faster.
Your recovery depends on your physical state before the injury. Although surgery is successful in most cases, you may have complications afterward. A broken hip can leave you with an impaired ability to walk for a period of time.
This immobility can lead to:
- blood clots in your legs or lungs
- urinary tract infections
Broken Hips and Older Adults
A broken hip can be very serious, particularly if you’re an older adult. This is due to the risks associated with surgery for older people, as well as the physical demands of recovery. You’ll be out of the hospital a few days after the surgery, and you may need to spend time in a rehabilitation facility.
If your recovery doesn’t progress, you might need to go to a long-term care facility. The loss of mobility and independence can lead to depression in some people, and this might further impede recovery. According to the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM), one in four hip fracture patients makes a full recovery. About 20 percent of people die within one year of sustaining a broken hip.
Older adults can take steps to heal from hip surgery and prevent new fractures. A calcium supplement can help build bone density. Doctors recommend weight-bearing exercise to stave off fractures and build strength. Seek your doctor’s approval before engaging in any exercise after a hip surgery.
Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Marijane Leonard
Published on Oct 28, 2015
Medically reviewed on Oct 28, 2015 by Jeanne Morrison, PhD, MSN