Hip Fracture Prevention - Hip Protectors

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Breaking the bones of the hip (hip fracture) is common in the elderly. This is a result of two major factors that affect older people: (1) an increased risk of falling because of poor stability (from a decrease in muscle, joint, and nerve function) and poor vision; and (2) weak bones that break easily because of osteoporosis.

It has been estimated that 250,000 (a quarter of a million) people in the United States suffer hip fractures each year!

A hip fracture is a terrible injury. It typically requires major surgery for repair. Operations involve either metal pinning with screws and/or plates or replacement of the hip joint with artificial parts. These operations can be complicated by infections, blood clotting, bleeding, and failure of the repair work. After such a surgical procedure, long and aggressive rehabilitation programs are necessary for optimal success. For the very frail, elderly person, ultimate recovery can be extremely difficult and long-term loss of independence, nursing-home placement, and even death can result.

Prevention of hip fractures is a key part of caring for the health of the elderly. Elderly people can take measures to decrease their own risk for hip fractures. These measures include participating in regular, proper exercise, "clearing the runway" in homes for walking and transferring, undergoing regular general and eye-health checkups, and addressing osteoporosis (bone-density exams, calcium and vitamin D intake, and osteoporosis medications when indicated).