Pelvic fracture symptoms depend on the severity of the break but can include groin pain and trouble walking. Severe breaks can involve loss of consciousness and internal bleeding.
Pain is the primary symptom of a pelvic fracture, which happens when one or more of your three pelvic bones crack, break, or shatter. Depending on the severity of the fracture, symptoms of a pelvic fracture can range from mild to severe and life threatening.
A hairline pelvic fracture is a small crack in one of your pelvic bones. This type of fracture is uncommon. It can happen to older adults after a minor fall because they tend to suffer from a loss of bone density. This type of fracture can cause pain when walking or sitting, along with other symptoms.
Most pelvic fractures are severe and happen after a high impact collision or a fall from a great height. These unstable fractures typically occur alongside other bodily damage and are considered a medical emergency. Symptoms can include severe pain, shock, and blood loss.
Here, we’ll discuss the symptoms of both hairline pelvic fractures and more serious unstable pelvic fractures.
A hairline fracture, also called a stress fracture, is a small crack or deep bruise within a bone. Pelvic hairline fractures can be painful, but they are not usually a medical emergency.
Symptoms of a hairline pelvic fracture include:
- sharp pain in your groin or hip area
- pain that’s somewhat relieved by sitting in certain positions
- pain when sitting, standing, or walking
- swelling in your pelvic area
- bruising or tenderness in your groin, hips, or tailbone
- inability to put weight or pressure on the area
Minor pelvic fractures can sometimes cause only mild pain and may go undetected for many weeks or months.
Bones lose density as you age, so older adults are more prone to hairline fractures of all kinds. If an older adult is in pain after a fall, they may need to be encouraged to get treatment. While there’s not much doctors can do to treat a hairline pelvic fracture, they may need to monitor it.
Symptoms of hairline pelvic fractures in older adults, especially those with limited mobility or dementia, may be hard to spot. If they complain of pain while sitting, other things to look for include:
- complaining of pain in the groin, hips, or lower back
- shifting into odd positions (often with a hip or knee bent) to avoid pain
- complaining of sciatica
- demonstrating a reluctance to stand or walk
- bruising or swelling in their pelvic area
- having trouble walking
An unstable pelvic fracture usually involves at least two breaks in the bones of your pelvic ring. These fractures are typically displaced, which means the ends of the bones don’t line up properly. This type of fracture is typically caused by a high impact injury, such as a fall from a great height, a car accident, or a motorcycle accident.
Unstable pelvic fractures often involve severe bleeding, which may be internal. They can be life threatening or fatal without immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms of an unstable pelvic fracture include:
- intense pain in your groin, hips, or abdomen
- inability to stand or walk
- loss of consciousness
- shortness of breath
- cold, clammy, or bluish skin
- bleeding from your abdomen, rectum, vagina, or urethra
- nausea or vomiting
If you have osteoporosis, you’re at an increased risk of both stable and unstable pelvic fractures, because your bones are less dense and more prone to breakage.
In most cases, a minor pelvic fracture (hairline or stress fracture) should resolve on its own within a few months, without the need for surgery or other procedures. Treatment typically involves a combination of pain-relieving drugs and physical therapy.
Your doctor will encourage you to get moving as soon as you can. Putting weight on your injury
A supportive device, such as a walker or cane, may be helpful in the weeks following your injury.
An unstable pelvic fracture is a very serious injury, sometimes requiring multiple surgeries. Most unstable pelvic fractures require surgery to set and stabilize the bones. During these procedures, surgeons use plates, screws, and other stabilizing materials to keep the bones together while they heal.
Your recovery experience will vary depending on the type of surgeries you have.
There are three types of surgery commonly used for an unstable pelvic fracture:
- External fixation: Stabilizing materials (pins and screws) are inserted into your bones through small incisions and secured to a framework that sits outside your body.
- Skeletal traction: This is a system of weights and pulleys that attach to surgical pins in your legs. This external system puts pressure on your legs, which helps keep the pelvic bones in place.
- Internal fixation: During this procedure, surgeons put the pelvic bones back into place and secure them with metal plates and screws.
After surgery, you may remain in a hospital or inpatient rehab center for several weeks. Your healthcare team will help you manage your pain. You’ll need to begin physical therapy as soon as you’re able. Doctors encourage movement, but it will be some time before you’re able to put your full weight on your legs.
Learn more about rehab and recovery
You won’t be able to walk or bear weight on your lower half for up to
When unstable pelvic fractures happen alongside other injuries, other surgeries are often necessary to stop the bleeding and repair damage. Damage to your urethra, intestines, or rectum may prolong the recovery time. Damage to nerves in your pelvic area can also impact the recovery process.
Damage to the muscles around your pelvis can take longer to heal, and you may walk with a limp for up to 1 year.
Physical therapy is important following both hairline pelvic fractures and unstable pelvic fractures. Physical therapy can help strengthen your pelvis, increase your range of motion, and improve flexibility. It helps you strengthen muscles throughout your body that you’ll use to increase stability.
Physical therapy is crucial for an unstable pelvic fracture. Initially, a therapist will use manual therapy to maneuver your muscles and joints.
Physical therapy will begin with non-weight-bearing exercises and stretches to strengthen and heal your pelvis. You’ll eventually work up to weight bearing exercises that will help your pelvis become strong enough to walk, get out of bed, sit, stand, and otherwise move freely.
Without diligent physical therapy, it will take longer to heal from a pelvic fracture.
Symptoms of a pelvic fracture vary depending on the severity of the break.
These symptoms can include a sharp or stabbing pain in the groin area, difficulty standing or walking, bruising or tenderness, and sometimes severe bleeding and shock. See a doctor if you suspect a pelvic fracture. They’ll perform an X-ray and advise you on next steps.