About the hip

The top of your femur and part of your pelvic bone meet to form your hip. A broken hip is usually a fracture in the upper portion of your femur, or thigh bone.

A joint is a point where two or more bones come together, and the hip is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is the head of the femur and the socket is the curved part of the pelvic bone, called the acetabulum. The hip’s structure allows more range of movement than any other type of joint. For example, you can rotate and move your hips in multiple directions. Other joints, such as the knees and elbows, allow only limited movement in one direction.

A broken hip is a serious condition at any age. It almost always requires surgery. Complications associated with a broken hip can be life-threatening. Read on to learn more, including the risks, symptoms, treatment, and outlook for a broken hip.

A hip fracture usually occurs in the ball portion (femur) of your hip joint and can occur in different places. At times, the socket or acetabulum can become fractured.

Femoral neck fracture: This type of break occurs in the femur about 1 or 2 inches from where the head of the bone meets the socket. A femoral neck fracture may cut off the blood circulation to the ball of your hip by tearing the blood vessels.

Intertrochanteric hip fracture: An intertrochanteric hip fracture occurs farther away. It’s about 3 to 4 inches from the joint. It doesn’t stop blood flow to the femur.

Intracapsular fracture: This fracture affects the ball and socket portions of your hip. It can also cause tearing of the blood vessels that go to the ball.

Potential causes of broken hips include:

  • falling on a hard surface or from a great height
  • blunt trauma to the hip, such as from a car crash
  • diseases such as osteoporosis, which is a condition that causes a loss of bone tissue
  • obesity, which leads to too much pressure on the hip bones

Certain aspects can increase your risk of breaking a hip. These include:

History of broken hip: If you’ve had a broken hip, you’re at a much greater risk of another one.

Ethnicity: If you’re of Asian or Caucasian descent, you’re at a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Sex: If you’re a woman, your chances of breaking your hip increases. This is because women are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men.

Age: If you’re 60 years or older, you may be at increased risk of breaking your hip. As you age, the strength and density of your bones can decrease. Weak bones can break easily. Advanced age also often brings vision and balance problems as well as other issues that can make you more likely to fall.

Malnutrition: A healthy diet includes nutrients that are important for your bone health, such as protein, vitamin D, and calcium. If you’re not getting enough calories or nutrients from your diet, you can become malnourished. This can put you at risk for fractures. Research has found that older adults who are malnourished have a greater risk of a hip break. It’s also important for children to get enough calcium and vitamin D for their future bone health.

The symptoms for a broken hip can include:

  • pain in the hip and groin area
  • the affected leg being shorter than the unaffected leg
  • an inability to walk or put weight or pressure on the affected hip and leg
  • inflammation of the hip
  • bruising

A broken hip can be life-threatening. If you suspect a broken hip, seek medical attention immediately.

Your doctor may notice the obvious signs of a broken hip, such as swelling, bruising, or deformity. However, to make a correct diagnosis, your doctor may order special tests to confirm the initial assessment.

Imaging tests help your doctor locate fractures. The doctor may order X-rays to take pictures of your hip. If this imaging tool doesn’t reveal any fractures, they may use other methods, such as MRI or CT.

MRI may show a break in your hip bone better than X-rays can. This imaging tool can produce many detailed pictures of the hip area. Your doctor can view these images on film or on a computer screen. CT is an imaging method that can produce pictures of your hip bone and the surrounding muscles, tissues, and fat.

Your doctor may take your age and physical condition into consideration before making a treatment plan. If you’re older and have medical issues in addition to a broken hip, your treatment may vary. Options can include:

  • medication
  • surgery
  • physical therapy

Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to reduce your discomfort. Also, surgery is the most common treatment to repair or replace your hip. Hip replacement surgery involves removing the damaged part of your hip and putting an artificial hip part in its place. If you have surgery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you recover faster.

Learn more: A guide to hip replacement surgery and aftercare »

You’ll be out of the hospital a few days after the surgery, and you may need to spend time in a rehabilitation facility. Your recovery depends on your physical state before the injury.

Although surgery is successful in most cases, you may have complications afterward. A broken hip can impair your ability to walk for a period of time. This immobility can lead to:

Learn more: How to prevent blood clots after surgery »

For older adults

A broken hip can be serious, particularly if you’re an older adult. This is due to the risks of surgery for older people and the physical demands of recovery.

If your recovery doesn’t progress, you might need to go to a long-term care facility. The loss of mobility and independence can lead to depression in some people, and this might slow down recovery.

Older adults can take steps to heal from hip surgery and prevent new fractures, though. A calcium supplement can help build bone density. Doctors recommend weight-bearing exercise to stave off fractures and build strength. Seek your doctor’s approval before engaging in any exercise after a hip surgery.