HealthONE - February 08, 2018

While anyone can fall and sustain a hip injury, nine out of 10 hip fractures in the U.S. every year occur in adults over 65. Additionally, three-quarters of the approximately 340,000 hip fractures occur in women, making it far more common for women to sustain a serious hip injury than men.

“Elderly patients have higher rates of osteoporosis and osteopenia, so their bones are not as strong as they once were,” said Dr. Mark Hammerberg, ortheopedic surgeon and hip specialist at OrthoONE at Rose Medical Center. “Because their bones are weaker, older patients have the highest risk of hip fracture if they fall.”

Older patients who are more likely to have reduced bone density and an unsteady gait are already predisposed to fracture and may also sustain a femoral neck fracture. While elderly women with osteoporosis are at greatest risk, hip fractures are far more common.

“Unlike younger patients who would require a significant injury such as a care crash to break their bones, older patients can sustain a fracture with just minor trauma," said Dr. Hammerberg. “In many cases, a hip fracture is the result of a slip or fall from a standing position.”

Hip fracture diagnosis and treatment

Your hip is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for mobility in each of your legs. The longest and heaviest bone in the body, your femur fits into the pelvis to allow range of motion in your legs. When you sustain a hip fracture, the upper portion of your femur gets damaged and will hurt whenever you try to move your leg. Your doctor will confirm a fracture with the above symptoms by ordering an x-ray.

If you have a hip fracture diagnosis, you may need surgery. The type of surgery will depend on which part of the femur is broken and what other tissues are damaged. Your surgeon may recommend using nails, screws or plates to repair the bone, or a partial or total hip replacement may be necessary. Minimally invasive hip replacement surgery is often possible and calls for smaller incisions that speed up post-op recovery time.

“When we perform surgery for a hip fracture in an elderly patient, the main goal is to mobilize patient as soon as possible,” said Dr. Hammerberg. “In most cases, we encourage full weight-bearing on the injured extremity.”

Hip replacement surgery is no longer reserved for the elderly. Hip injuries, or other health conditions like arthritis, are starting to drive younger individuals to undergo hip surgery.

“Elective hip replacement surgery is not necessarily reserved for the elderly,” said Dr. Hammerberg. “More and more younger people in their 40's and 50's, are presenting to my practice for consideration for hip replacement surgery. They are limited by hip pain after an exhaustive course of non-operative management, and they are hoping to return to a more active lifestyle.”

Deadly hip fracture complications

While older adults are at increased risk of hip injury, they are also at danger of more serious complications that can be fatal. Reduced mobility can lead to blood clots, further weakening of the bones or a compromised immune system. Pneumonia or other infections can permanently damage vital organs and even cause death.

“The risk of osteoporotic fractures can be reduced with certain medications that improve bone density, so it is recommended that older people have their bone density checked and monitored” said Dr. Hammerberg. "Older patients should also make sure that they have enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets, and supplements may be useful for this purpose."

"Still, the best strategy to prevent hip fractures is to prevent the falls that cause them." Patients may benefit from an exercise routine that aims to improve balance and coordination. "A simple measure would be to check the safety of the home environment in order to remove tripping hazards such as loose rugs or power cords."

Be sure to check with your doctor before taking new supplements or starting an exercise routine.

Contact one of our orthopedic specialists at OrthoONE to learn more.