Every year, millions of people around the world suffer from broken hips. A hip fracture is painful and disabling, and can even lead to death. But it is possible to recover. Hip fractures are a dreaded complication of osteoporosis. The Centers for Disease Control tells us that nine out of ten hip fractures occur in people over the age of 65. Three out of four hip fractures occur in women. But thousands of people a year under the age of 40 suffer hip fractures even without osteoporosis, usually after vigorous exercise that is new, strenuous, and repetitive. When soccer, rugby, and soccer players put repeated stress on the hips, microfractures can build up until something causes a break.
Hip fracture symptoms
Hip fractures have a variety of symptoms. A 30-year-old women’s baseball player could enter the ER with a broken hip after slipping on base. An 85-year-old man may experience sudden hip pain and inability to walk after bending over to put food in the cat’s bowl.
The classic cardinal symptom of hip fracture is extreme pain. Hip fractures hurt a lot. The pain can extend from the thigh to the knee, even if the thigh bone and knee are not fractures. The leg may turn outward and appear shorter. The reason a hip fracture makes the leg look shorter is that the muscles that extend it depend on an intact femur to stretch. In severe breaks in the bone, there may be interference with circulation in the leg. Loss of blood flow can create a medical emergency. If you can’t stand at all, you need to see a doctor right away.
Hip stress fractures have less severe symptoms. The patient may feel fine while sitting perfectly still, but walking is painful. Pain from a hip fracture can radiate down the knee and into the groin. Intermittent pain can turn into constant pain if the patient continues to use the hip as if nothing had happened. However, this pain is relieved with rest.
Sometimes ER doctors misdiagnose a hip fracture such as sciatica. The difference between the two conditions is obvious: the doctor requests X-rays and / or MRIs, but from the patient’s point of view, there is a simple way to tell them apart. If the pain extends from the hip to the knee in the front of the leg, the problem is more likely a fracture. If the pain extends from the hip to the back or sides of the leg, the problem is more likely sciatica. Do not let an ER doctor fire you before the radiologist has interpreted your x-rays.
How do you recover from a broken hip?
Acute hip injury requires a medical evaluation. Some hip fractures can only be repaired by surgery. The need for surgery is a medical decision. When surgery is required, earlier is better than later. The necessary surgery may not be a hip replacement. Sometimes a fracture is small enough to be treated with an internal fixation device, which is surgically implanted and then surgically removed 12 to 18 months later. And sometimes the fracture is painful but does not require surgery. Rest and rehabilitation are sometimes enough. But in almost all cases:
- You need to keep the weight off the hip joint. This means stopping sports activities and exercise while the hip is healing. Some patients can move on crutches. If the lower body mass is too high or if the upper body force is too low, it may be necessary to use a scooter or wheelchair.
- Pain medication is necessary. Aspirin or acetaminophen are usually not enough. The doctor will prescribe muscle relaxants that help the leg muscles to spread over the femur and probably some type of opioid to overcome the pain.
- Acupuncture, transcutaneous electroneural stimulation (TENS), and heating pads can also help. Controlling pain doesn’t just help you feel better. It also helps your bones heal faster. You should not return to normal activity while you are still using pain medication.
It is better not to be brave your pain. You shouldn’t complain about the pain so much that you drive out the people who are helping you cope, but it is also a mistake to go about your daily routine, as if nothing is wrong. Continued stress on the joint can make recovery impossible. Stop your exercise program and your daily work schedule long enough to allow your joint to heal.
What about a broken hip that can cause permanent disability?
We all hear stories about people who break their hips, become permanently disabled, and even die. The fracture that leads to disability or death may not be as severe as the fracture that only results in a career interruption for a young athlete. There are other factors that make hip fractures very serious:
- A person who suffers from dementia and has a hip fracture is at high risk of disability and death. Special precautions must be taken to protect the home from falls.
- Anyone taking an antidepressant can have an especially difficult time recovering from a hip fracture. Some, but not all, antidepressant drugs interfere with the process of new bone formation.
- And something as simple as buying new shoes makes a difference when patients start walking again. Old, worn shoes can interfere with balance, and loss of balance can lead to falls. As a general rule, it is a good idea to discard shoes that have been worn every day for more than six months.