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Hip Protectors Lower Fracture Risk in Elderly

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Nov. 22, 2000 -- Hip fractures, a common cause of disability and even death in elderly people, are notoriously hard to prevent. But there may be a solution available for some people. A study in the Nov. 23, 2000 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine says that a device called a hip protector is very effective in preventing these fractures if it is worn regularly.

In this study researchers used a modern hip protector, with a shaped protective shield that fits over the hipbone, surrounded by padding, held in place by a stretchy undergarment. "This study is the first to show ... that the risk of hip fracture among the elderly can indeed be reduced by the regular use of hip protectors," study author Pekka Kannus, MD, PhD tells WebMD.

Kannus, a professor of injury prevention at the University of Tampere, and head of the Accident and Trauma Research Center at the UKK Institute in Tampere, Finland, adds "The device used in this study is quite comfortable to wear."

However, "they're a hard sell," says Judy Stevens, PhD, an epidemiologist in the National Center of Injury Prevention and Control, in Atlanta. "Just imagine asking any woman to wear something that's going to make her hips look bigger!"

"No one wants to walk around wearing a device that makes their hip size increase," Chhanda Dutta, PhD, tells WebMD. "Now researchers are working to develop thin, lightweight materials that can also absorb more force." Dutta, the director of musculoskeletal research in the geriatrics program at the National Institute on Aging, says there is a great deal of interest in this subject these days. "We can expect to see more sophisticated methods of hip protection tested during the next few years."

Stevens, who has tried two modern hip protectors, agrees. "They're not bad. I was surprised they were so comfortable."

In this study researchers compared the risk of hip fractures among people wearing hip protectors and similar people not wearing hip protectors. They found that wearing hip protectors cut a person's risk of getting a hip fracture by more than half. When they looked at the rate of fractures per fall, they found a fracture was more than 80% less likely if someone was wearing a protector at the time of the fall.

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