Hip Fractures: Everything You Need To Know

You are doing the penguin-shuffle down your icy driveway when you start to slide. You desperately try to maintain your balance, but before you know it, you fall and land hard on your right side. Your efforts to stand are met by sharp pains in the hip. Luckily, a neighbor saw the fall and was able to call the paramedics. Situations like these that lead to hip fractures are far too common given how serious the long term consequences can be. Let’s take a closer look at hip fractures and why we want to prevent them!

A broken hip refers to any fracture involving the femur bone by the ball-and-socket joint that forms the hip. Hip fractures are the most serious of all osteoporosis-related fractures. They can lead to permanent disability, reliance on assistance for help with everyday activities, and even death. Despite a wealth of research outlining exactly how common and devastating hip fractures can be, we as medical providers do a poor job of explaining these risks to our patients.

How common are hip fractures?
In the year 2000, there were an estimated 1.6 million hip fractures worldwide! As life expectancies continue to increase, so will the number of broken hips. By the year 2050, researchers predict that the rate of hip fractures will increase 310% for men and 240% for women! White women currently have a 1 in 6 lifetime risk of sustaining a hip fracture (compared to a 1 in 9 lifetime risk for developing breast cancer). Did you know that a 50 year old woman has the same lifetime risk of dying from a hip fracture as she does from breast cancer? I hope that these statistics demonstrate just how common and serious hip fractures can be.

What are symptoms of hip fractures?
Hip fractures typically occur after landing on the side of your hip during a fall. Following the injury, you will experience severe pain in the hip and groin region. Most will have difficulty moving the affected leg and will be completely unable to place any weight on the leg. If you have a displaced hip fracture, you may have shortening and outward rotation of the affected leg.

How are hip fractures treated?
Hip fractures are serious injuries that should be treated with surgery within the first 24-48 hours following the accident. The type of surgery depends on the location of the fracture and the amount of displacement between the bone fragments. Some fractures may require a few screws, whereas others may need a plate and screws, a rod and screws, or even a partial hip replacement surgery.

What are complications of hip fractures?
Complications are possible at every step of the treatment process, and a full recovery following a hip fracture is the exception, not the rule. Shortly after surgery, you may experience infection, blood clots, blood loss requiring blood transfusion, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, and exacerbation of underlying medical conditions which can be life threatening. Studies have indicated that 20-24% of people will die within 1 year of a hip fracture, and another 20% will require permanent placement in a nursing home. Two-thirds of people never return to the pre-injury level of function and independence that they once enjoyed.

The bottom line on hip fractures…
Hip fractures are common in those with osteoporosis and typically result from a fall onto the side of the hip from a standing height. Only one third of patients regain full function following a hip fracture. The remainder will experience loss of function and independence, and 20-24% will die within 1 year. I provide these sobering statistics not in an effort to scare you, but to educate you about the harsh reality of these serious fractures. I hope that you will use this post as motivation to improve your bone health!