For most of us, a stumble is simply embarrassing. But for older people and others with weakened bones, falls can result in serious injuries, such as hip fractures. Falling from a standing height — such as tripping over a rug, slipping on an icy sidewalk, or just losing your balance — is the most common cause of these hip fractures in the elderly, as well as those with osteoporosis or osteogenesis imperfecta. That’s a problem, because fractures of the hip and other bones can have severe — even life-threatening — consequences.
Types of Hip Fractures
There are two main types of hip fractures, which depend on the area of the femur (thigh bone) that is injured:
- Intracapsular hip fracture
- Intertrochanteric hip fracture
An intracapsular fracture occurs at the top of the femur, while an intertrochanteric fracture occurs in the part of the pelvic bone that juts out.
Hip Fracture Side Effects and Complications
Both types of hip fractures can cause:
- Extreme pain
- Inability to move or put weight on the leg
- Stiffness, swelling, and bruising around the hip area
Some people who have suffered a hip fracture may find that the leg on their affected side appears shorter than the other or that the foot turns outward from their body.
Because hip fractures and similar fall-related injuries can slow you down and require rest, they can increase your risk of complications, including:
The immobility caused by fractures can also cause your muscles to atrophy and your bones to weaken, which can raise your odds of another fall.
Fall-Related Injury and Hip Fracture Risks
You’re more likely to experience fall-related injuries if you:
- Are a senior citizen. As we age, bone and muscle mass decrease at the same time that vision and balance problems increase.
- Are a woman. The drop in estrogen that accompanies menopause means that women lose bone density more quickly than men, making them more prone to fractures. About 70 percent of hip fractures occur in women.
- Have osteoporosis or other conditions that can weaken bones or raise the risk of falling, such as an overactive thyroid, cognitive dysfunction, and an intestinal disorder.
- Take certain medications, including steroid drugs and sedatives.
- Have an eating disorder or certain nutritional deficiencies.
- Are physically inactive.
- Use tobacco, alcohol, or both.
Preventing Fall-Related Injuries and Hip Fractures
If you fracture a hip or suffer other fall-related injuries, you should seek immediate medical attention. You may require hip repair or replacement surgery. Because about 20 percent of people who fracture a hip will have another hip fracture within a few years, your physician may recommend medications such as bisphosphonates to help reduce that risk. You’ll also likely need regular physical therapy and rehabilitation to become mobile again.
Aside from taking steps to reduce your risk of falling, you can help prevent fractures by exercising regularly, getting enough calcium and vitamin D to build and maintain bone mass, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. Your doctor can give you other advice for preventing fractures and other injuries.
» Watch our Medical Mondays segment on preventing falls among seniors and find additional fall-related articles.