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Hip Fracture - Topic Overview

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What is a hip fracture?

A hip fracture is more than a broken bone. If you are older, breaking your hip can mean a major change in your life. You will probably need surgery, and it can take as long as a year to recover. But activity and physical therapy can help you get your strength and mobility back.

Most people break their hip near the upper part of the thighbone (femur) camera.gif. It usually happens near where the thighbone fits into the hip joint.

What causes hip fractures?

Most hip fractures happen to people who are 65 or older, and they are usually caused by falls. As you get older, your bones naturally lose some strength and are more likely to break, even from a minor fall. Children and young adults are more likely to break a hip because of a bike or car accident or a sports injury.

Other things that increase your risk of breaking your hip include:

  • Being female.
  • Your family history—being thin or tall or having family members who had fractures later in life.
  • Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, which you need for strong bones.
  • Not being active. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, helps keep bones strong.
  • Smoking.
  • Medical conditions that cause dizziness or problems with balance, or conditions such as arthritis that can interfere with steady and safe movement.
  • Taking certain medicines, such as long-term steroid medicines used to treat asthma or COPD.

What are the symptoms?

If your hip is broken, you will most likely:

  • Have severe pain in your hip or lower groin area.
  • Not be able to walk or put any weight on your leg.

These symptoms are most common after a fall. But if you have very thin bones from osteoporosis or another problem, you could break your hip without falling.

In rare cases, people have only thigh or knee pain. They may be able to walk.

How is a hip fracture diagnosed?

Doctors use X-rays to diagnose a broken hip. You may need another test if your doctor thinks that you have a fracture but can't see it on an X-ray. You might have a test such as:

  • An MRI, which gives better images of bones and soft tissues.
  • A CT scan, another way of getting more detailed images.
  • A bone scan, which involves injecting a dye, then taking images. It can show hairline fractures, where the bone is cracked but the pieces are still in place.

How is it treated?

You will most likely need surgery to fix your hip. Surgery usually works well, but your hip will probably take a long time to get better.

Surgery is done as soon as possible after a hip fracture is diagnosed, often within 24 hours. Having surgery right away may help shorten your stay in the hospital and reduce pain and complications. Sometimes surgery is delayed for 1 to 2 days so other medical problems can be treated first. This may make surgery less risky.

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