A hip fracture is a type of fracture in which a bone breaks in half. The hip joint is where the thigh bone, or femur, connects to the pelvis. The hip is one of the largest and most weight-bearing joints in the body, making even a moderate broken bone dangerous. A hip fracture is usually the result of a severe, traumatic injury.
But elderly patients are also at a higher risk of developing a hip fracture because they are more likely to have osteoporosis and other conditions that weaken the bones and make them more likely to break. In addition, as people age, their bodies naturally lose some of their ability to heal and recover from injuries, which can make a hip fracture even more dangerous.
What is a Hip Fracture?
A hip fracture is a broken bone in the thigh bone (femur), located in the hip area. A hip fracture may result from a fall, heavy weightlifting, a motor vehicle accident, or other injury. In most cases, you will know you have a broken hip if you experience sudden, severe, and shooting pain in the area. Other symptoms may also occur, however, including bruising, a decrease in your blood pressure, dizziness, and a reduced ability to walk or stand.
How to Tell if You Have a Hip Fracture?
As noted above, a hip fracture is the result of a break in the femur or thigh bone. But how can you tell if you have a fractured hip? There are a number of signs to look out for. One indicator is a sudden and severe, but short-lived, decrease in your blood pressure.
This is due to the pressure that the blood in your arteries is suddenly no longer experiencing, and your blood pressure drops to compensate. A fracture may cause your blood pressure to fall as low as 80/40 or lower. If you experience this symptom, you should call your doctor immediately.
You should also seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following:
- Sudden, severe, and unusual pain in the area of the fractured hip
- Visible deformity in the hip area
- One or both of your thighs is significantly shorter than the other
Keep Moving Even If It Hurts
When a bone is broken, it is important to keep moving. This helps to promote healing and prevent infection. Holding still may actually make a bone worse; this is because broken bones need movement to set, or knit, properly.
If you must remain immobile, you should elevate your legs above the level of the heart, as this helps to promote blood flow. You should also try to walk or sit upright whenever possible. Avoid lying down for extended periods of time, as this can cause breathing issues. If you have to sleep, try to sleep on your side.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Hip After a Fracture
After a hip fracture, the most important thing you can do is follow your doctor’s advice and take prescribed painkillers exactly as your doctor tells you to. While it is essential to manage your pain after a hip fracture, doing so in a way that endangers your health is a major mistake.
Do not self-administer painkillers. While it is admirable to want to take more charge of your own health and well-being, doing so by trying to take more painkillers after a hip fracture is not the way to go about it. This is because medication that is taken improperly or without a doctor’s guidance can cause more harm than good.
Rather than taking more painkillers, you should instead be following a pain management plan that your doctor has prescribed for you. A pain management plan may include: Pain relievers that you can buy without a prescription (over-the-counter pain relievers)
- Over-the-counter medications that you must get prescribed by your doctor
- Percocet (for moderate to severe pain) or other opioids (for extreme pain)
Strongly recommended: Tylenol or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for pain that is not well-controlled with over-the-counter medications)
Check with your doctor before taking any other medications, even those you might buy at a pharmacy. Be aware that many medications have a long list of additional side effects, and some may be dangerous or even fatal when taken by themselves. Your doctor has specifically recommended these medications for you, and you should not try to self-administer them.
Do Not Try to Operate on Your Own Hips
It is very important that you do not try to operate on your own injured or broken hip. Doing so can cause irreparable damage to the hip and may result in a full recovery that is followed by additional damage.
While it is normal to be concerned about the damage that has been done to your body and to want to take care of it yourself, doing so can have a number of negative consequences. This is because, as noted above, broken bones need movement to set properly, and trying to cut or scrape the broken bone can cause more damage to the bone than repositioning the hip would. Your doctor should take care of any fractures, not you.
Get a Same-Day Surgery Referral
If you have a broken hip, you should get a same-day surgery referral to rule out other possible injuries that may have caused the fracture. If other injuries are ruled out, your doctor may be able to see you sooner.
What to Expect After Surgery
After a hip fracture, you will likely be placed in a rehabilitation facility to help you recover. Your stay may be short or long, but it will be necessary in order for you to regain the use of your hip and leg.
During your stay, you will work with a physical therapist to help you regain mobility and strength. You may be given crutches after a hip fracture to help you get around, but you will likely be able to walk with assistance about a week after your surgery.
After about six weeks, your leg may be strong enough for you to begin using a walker. You can then transition to a cane as your leg becomes stronger. Another six weeks after that, you can begin using a bike.
How To Manage
With a hip fracture, managing pain after surgery or an injury is extremely important. It can be critical to prevent additional injuries, such as blood clots, blood clotting disorders, pneumonia, and other infections. There are a number of ways to manage pain after a hip fracture, including taking pain medications as prescribed by your surgeon or doctor; using over-the-counter pain medications as a self-torture; and managing your pain with physical therapy, ice, heat, and other non-medicinal treatments. Here are some ways to manage pain after a hip fracture:
Use ice as a first line of treatment for pain. Apply ice for 15 minutes every two hours for the first 24 hours after the injury. Although the ice may sting, it will help to reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Go easy on the ice after that, but continue to use it as needed.
Consider taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen, when you use ice. Do not take an opioid (such as Vicodin or OxyContin) unless it is prescribed by your doctor. While they can be a good option for managing chronic pain, they can also be dangerous inlarge amounts.
- Avoid using a hot water bottle, heating pad, or electric blanket, as these can increase your risk of second-degree burns.
- Elevate your bed, if possible, to help decrease swelling.
- Avoid twisting and bending while you are in bed, as this can further increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Avoid taking a bath or shower unless absolutely necessary, as this can further increase your risk of developing UTI (urinary tract infections).
- Elevate your feet while you are lying in bed to help decrease swelling. Try to stay in bed as much as possible for the first few days after a hip fracture.
- Avoid strenuous activity, such as climbing stairs, for the first few weeks after the fracture. Go back to normal activity, such as walking, as soon as you can.
Most elderly patients do well with a hip fracture, although some may experience moderate to severe pain. Be sure to talk to your doctor or nurse about how to manage pain after a hip fracture in an elderly patient, as each patient is different.
Remember to Stay in Touch with Your Doctor
While it is important to manage your pain after a hip fracture yourself, it is also essential that you follow up with your doctor. This is because not all broken bones heal in the same way, and your doctor may be able to help you deal with any issues that occur as a result of your fracture.
Your doctor may recommend that you continue to follow up with a physical therapist long after you have been discharged from the rehabilitation facility. Doing so will help you to remain mobile and competitive in your daily life.
If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to speak with your doctor. He or she is there to help you, and they are more than willing to talk to you about your situation.