- 1 What is a hip fracture?
- 2 What are the signs and symptoms of a hip fracture?
- 3 How is a hip fracture diagnosed?
- 4 How painful is a fractured hip?
- 5 Can you have a hip fracture and not know it?
- 6 What should I do if I am concerned that I have a hip fracture?
- 7 How is a hip fracture treated?
- 8 What are the possible complications of hip fracture?
- 9 Can you fully recover from a broken hip?
- 10 Dr Andrew Quoc Dutton Orthopaedic & Sports Clinic Insurance
A fractured hip is one of the most frequent fractures seen in the emergency rooms and orthopedic trauma teams. However before professional help is available or sought out, it will be important for you to assess and know what could be possible symptoms of a hip fracture.
While some are more pronounced, some are confusing that it may even look like another condition entirely. But when you’re aware of the red flags, you can respond accordingly and avail yourself to medical care as soon as possible.
What is a hip fracture?
A hip fracture is defined as a break in the upper portion of the thighbone (femur), and it is considered a serious injury with life-threatening complications. Reports show that mortality rates are between 18%-31% within a year of sustaining a hip fracture.
This type of hip injury is common among the elderly as a result of minor falls, particularly in people with reduced bone quality. However, it is also linked to high-energy trauma in younger patients, such as sports injuries or vehicle collisions. Meanwhile, pathological hip fractures are the kind that stems from bone tumours or metastatic disease.
A hip fracture almost always requires surgical repair or replacement. Therefore, knowing the symptoms is crucial to take the necessary steps to get them corrected.
What are the signs and symptoms of a hip fracture?
Usually, hip fractures are acutely painful and that sensation is localised to the groin and upper portion of the thigh. If the hip bone has separated, a person cannot walk, stand, bear weight or move the upper leg or knee.
But in cases where the broken pieces are jammed together and the fracture is insignificant, the person may still be able to walk. The leg will still appear normal accompanied by mild pain.
The skin around the fractured hip may also swell, redden, or bruise. This happens when blood leaks from the fracture or from torn blood vessels nearby. This may even make you feel light-headed or weak. Another symptom of a broken hip is localised swelling in the affected area followed by bruising.
Sometimes, a broken hip can also send pain signals down to the knee instead of the hip. The reason for that is that the hips and knees share part of the same nerve pathways. This type of pain is called “referred pain”.
The symptoms of hip fracture may seem like other medical conditions. Therefore, it’s always important to see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.
How is a hip fracture diagnosed?
Doctors can usually recognise most fractures by examination. But first, they will need a complete medical history and a thorough physical assessment. Then, they will confirm their observations with diagnostic procedures, which include the following:
X-ray. Image of suspected fractures often begins with plain radiography or x-ray. It’s the fastest and easiest way for your doctor to view and assess bone injuries and fractures.
MRI. Some fractures may not be visible immediately on X-ray. If clinical suspicion remains, further imaging tests are necessary. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to generate detailed images of your bones and soft tissues. It can detect minor fractures and even tell if it is old or new.
CT Scan. This imaging test is also used when X-rays or physical examinations are not conclusive. It uses a combination of X-rays and a computer to create images of the bones. Doctors can look at CT scan images to check for muscle damage and bone abnormalities.
How painful is a fractured hip?
A broken hip can cause considerable pain and prevent you from walking. For instance, stress fractures of the hip can trigger groin pain when you stand or move. It may cause you to limp when you walk, and strenuous activities, such as running and climbing stairs, can be excruciating.
Besides the physical limitations, pain following a hip fracture has been associated with delirium, depression, sleep disturbance and decreased response to interventions for other disease states. Therefore, it’s important to treat and manage complaints of hip pain.
Can you have a hip fracture and not know it?
In some cases, you may not know that you have already sustained a hip fracture, but you will feel a slight pain in your groin, back, knees, thighs, or buttocks. It’s common when the bone is sufficiently weak, such as in osteoporosis, where the fracture occurs with little or no warning, stress, or trauma.
It is also possible for a fracture to have no symptoms present. In which case, you may be able to bear weight and walk without too much discomfort. An asymptomatic fracture may not even show up on an X-ray.
What should I do if I am concerned that I have a hip fracture?
If you think that you’ve fractured your hip, go to a hospital as soon as possible. You may have to call for an ambulance as it may be unlikely that you can move comfortably without a stretcher. It’s important to avoid too much movement on the affected hip.
How is a hip fracture treated?
A fractured hip is usually treated with surgery. An orthopaedic surgeon may use metal devices to stabilise and strengthen your joints. Depending on the type of hip fracture sustained, you may undergo a surgical repair called an open reduction with internal fixation (ORIF), or a partial or total hip replacement.
Essentially the goal of treatment is to provide relief from pain and enable you to resume your normal activity level. While in the hospital, you may already start engaging in physical therapy exercises to regain range of motion and strength in your hip. The restorative exercises will continue at home or on admission to a rehabilitation facility.
What are the possible complications of hip fracture?
A hip fracture can hamper your ability to function or move around independently. Serious complications, like blood clots, are fatal, mainly when it breaks off and travels to the vessels in your lung and causes a blockage (pulmonary embolism).
It’s also possible for a hip fracture to hamper proper blood circulation to the head of the thigh bone. When blood supply is interrupted, it can result in femoral avascular necrosis or the death of bone tissue. If it is left untreated, the bone will eventually collapse. This complication is common with femoral neck fractures.
Other complications of a hip fracture include:
- Muscle atrophy (wasting or thinning of muscle tissue)
- Non-union or improper union of your bone
- Postoperative infection
- Bedsores from lying in the same position with minimal movement
Hip fractures can result in a loss of independence, reduced quality of life, and depression. These effects are especially true for older people. In addition, the recovery period may be lengthy, where you will generally need assistance from family, home caregivers, or the services of a long-term care facility.
Can you fully recover from a broken hip?
Complete healing of a broken hip is possible, but you can expect it to take several months. Most fractures take about 10-12 weeks to heal, while muscle strength and mobility may take longer.
The rate at which you heal will depend on several factors. But generally, it can take up to a full year to achieve as much improvement as possible. The key is getting your hip injury treated as soon as possible.
If you observe some symptoms of a hip fracture, it is wise to seek professional help as soon as possible. While some fractures heal on their own, some can lead to severe complications. So, don’t take that chance. Instead, get those suspicious symptoms checked. You can book a non-obligatory consultation with Dr Andrew Dutton.