Overview of Hip Fractures

I’m Ed Smith, a Bone Fracture Attorney. Anyone who has paid attention to the television recently has probably seen numerous commercials with elderly people falling and “cannot get up.” While some may look at these commercials with a skeptical eye, in reality, they shine a light on a very important issue. When it comes to bone fractures, fractures of the hip are among the most common and serious bone fractures in the medical community. Because of their implications for patient mobility and the quality of life issues that they can create, it is important for patients to understand how such a fracture can develop, what problems it can cause, and how it is treated.

What is a Fractured Hip?

When patients are told that they have suffered a fractured or broken hip, most patients do not realize that there are multiple types of fractured hips that can develop. They have been classified in this manner because each type of fracture is treated differently and a unique set of complications could develop for each type. There are three different types of hip fractures, including:

An Intracapsular Fracture: The hip is made up of the femoral head that inserts into the acetabulum, or the hip socket, and provides the ball and socket joint movement that most people are familiar with. Just beneath the head of the femur is a thin zone called the femoral neck. If the break in the hip occurs in the femoral neck, this is called an intracapsular hip fracture. These types of fractures are relatively common because the bone is particularly thin in the femoral neck.

An Intertrochanteric Fracture: Below the head of the femur and the femoral neck is an area of the femur called the greater trochanter, on the lateral side, and the lesser trochanter, on the medial side. These are two bony projections that come off of the femur. If a fracture develops in between (or completely through) the greater and lesser trochanter, this is termed an intertrochanteric fracture. Because the bone is thicker in this region, it typically requires a greater amount of force to cause this type of fracture. This fracture is also commonly known as the femoral neck fracture.

A Subtrochanteric Fracture: This type of fracture encompasses any fracture that develops beneath the greater and lesser trochanter. Every patient’s anatomy is slightly different; however, after a certain point down the femur, the fractures will be classified as femur fractures instead of hip fractures.

It is important for patients to understand that while the fractures are certainly classified in this manner, it is possible for patients to suffer multiple fractures in the hip of various types if the accident was particularly severe. One fracture can also span multiple classifications as the break in the bone can cross into different parts of the hip bone.

How do Hip Fractures Develop?

When people suffer a broken hip, many want to know exactly how their fracture developed so that they can prevent it from returning once it’s treated. Most hip fractures develop from a fall or from a direct impact to the hip. Because the femoral head, neck, and trochanteric region are particularly thick in size, and the breaks normally occur as a result of lower bone density. 

Over time, bones start to lose their calcium density which weakens their structure and increases the risk factor for fractures. The lower the bone density, the easier it is for the bone to break. If the bones become too weak, a patient may be diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. These conditions predispose the patient to more bone fractures and both conditions are more commonly found in the elderly. Any fall can impact the hip directly. If the bone density is low, the risk factor increases and even a relatively small fall can lead to a fracture in any one of the three regions discussed above.

It is also possible to suffer hip fractures in traumatic car accidents. The extreme forces involved in the accident and the positioning of the victim in relation to where the other car collides with the victim's vehicle all play a factor in the probability of suffering a broken hip. For example, if someone is involved in a car accident, their car could be t-boned by another vehicle. This could lead to the door of the car directly impacting the hip, leading to a fracture. 

Another mechanism of injury in a car accident involves a head-on collision. People typically have their legs extended at the front of the vehicle as they try to slam on the breaks to stop the car. If the front of the car impacts another vehicle, the front of the car could get rolled up, along with the driver’s legs. If the driver’s legs are locked in place when the impact occurs, the force of the impact could be transmitted all the way up the femur and into the hip, resulting in a broken hip.

No matter how the hip injury was sustained, it is always a serious injury that needs expert medical attention. Medical experts will help you with the necessary treatment and pain relief so that you can get back on your feet and return to your life. Recovery from hip fractures can be lengthy and costly, if your injury is the result of somone else's negligent act, make sure to phone an experienced attorney today. They will guide you in what needs to be done to recover the compensation owed and the best way to get treatment. 

What Kind of Symptoms Will I Experience?

After the physician has completed the medical history of the accident, they will want to ask about the symptoms that the patient has been experiencing. If people have a broken hip, there are a few different symptoms that they should keep an eye out for. While some of these symptoms are common across all fractures, some are unique to the hip and can help lead to a quicker diagnosis. Some of the symptoms of a fractured hip include:

Trouble Moving or Walking: Because the hip is an intricate part of the walking mechanism, patients will have difficulty walking. Every time the ball and socket joint moves to initiate a step, patients will feel pain in the affected hip. This will make walking almost impossible. Patients may even feel the crack in their hip move.

Pain over the Fracture Site: In this case, patients will feel pain in their hip regardless of whether or not they are walking. If they touch the fracture site, the pain will get worse. This is the most common symptom of a fractured hip.

Inability to Place Weight on the Leg: On the fractured side, patients will be unable to bear weight. This includes standing up or placing pressure on the bottom of the foot of the fractured hip. For example, patients may have trouble even putting on their shoe because of the pressure this places on the leg of the fractured hip.

The Physical Exam of a Broken Hip

After the physician has finished asking questions, they will proceed to the physical exam. They will certainly take a look at the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure; however, they will focus their exam on the site of the fractured hip. There are a few physical exam findings that the physician will be looking for, including:

Swelling and Bruising: When patients suffer a fractured hip, the hip tends to swell up. This is body responding to the fracture by mobilizing cells and plasma to the injured hip to initiate the repair process. In addition, the hip is a vascular structure filled with blood vessels. If any of these vessels have been damaged, patients may also start to notice bruises in the area. If this is the case, patients should seek medical attention quickly in case a major blood vessel has been damaged.

The Fractured Hip May Appear Shorter: It is possible that the leg on the side of the fracture may appear shorter. If a complete break has been suffered, the muscles of the hip will pull on the broken fragment and may dislocate the broken fragment upward. This gives the appearance of a shorter leg and is a common occurrence after a traumatic accident, such as an auto collision.

The Fractured Hip May Turn Outward: Similar to the symptom above, the muscles will also turn the broken fragment toward the lateral side, or outward, in a complete break. The physician will look for these two signs to confirm the diagnosis. They also will indicate a severe, complete, break.

Will I Need to Receive Any Imaging Studies?

After the history and physical have been completed, the physician will order a few imaging studies. Even if the fracture has been confirmed on a physical exam, these studies are still going to be necessary because the exact location of the fracture needs to be identified and there may be other fractures present in other bones that need to be treated.

An X-Ray: The physician will likely order an x-ray from multiple different angles, such as the AP and lateral angles. This is necessary because some locations of the hip are only visible from certain angles and fractures could be missed if these angles aren’t included in the order. An x-ray is a fast, safe scan that can be used to quickly identify almost every type of bone fracture. Patients will be asked to move or hold their hip in certain locations to facilitate the different angles of the x-ray. The x-ray may include the leg as well, particularly if the patient was involved in a traumatic accident, to ensure there aren’t other femur fractures that have been missed.

An MRI: This study will not be ordered in every situation; however, if the patient has suffered a complete break or there are concerns that ancillary structures have been damaged (such as muscles or nerves), this study may be ordered to get a better look at these structures. An MRI takes longer to complete, making it the second choice for emergent situations; however, it provides impressive detail and doesn’t expose the patient to any radiation. Patients just need to remove any metal prior to receiving this scan. If patients have metal implants, they cannot receive an MRI scan.

These are the two most common imaging modalities employed for fractured hips; however, patients could be asked to undergo an ultrasound scan in the emergency room or a CT scan for other injuries.

What About the Possibility of Surgery?

Surgery is not necessary for every hip fracture; however, it is not uncommon for patients to require surgery to repair the injury. The imaging studies will tell the physician whether or not the fracture has been displaced. If the fracture has been displaced, the bone is not in a proper location to heal correctly. Therefore, the bones will need to be placed back in their proper alignment through a surgical procedure. A surgeon will put the bones back into place and then hold the bones in place using pins, screws, or plates that will remain in place for life.

Some patients may have ligaments or tendons that have been torn in a traumatic accident. If this is the case, surgery will be needed to repair these structures as well.

Rehabilitation May Be Necessary

Almost every patient who suffers a broken hip will require some degree of physical therapy as they learn how to walk on their newly repaired hip and to have more pain relief; however, rehab could range from simply moving a stiff hip that has been in a cast for several weeks to re-learning how to walk altogether. Most patients will have at least a few visits with a physical therapy clinic where a physical therapist will work on strengthening the muscles around the hip to prevent another hip fracture and helping to restore balance and flexibility to the hip joint and the rest of the injured leg.

Complications of a Hip Fracture

Without a doubt, the most dangerous complication that can develop from a fractured hip is called avascular necrosis. Sometimes, the fragments of the bone can tear off and damage the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the hip. If this happens, the bone will start to die, giving the injury the name avascular necrosis. When this happens, this is a surgical emergency because blood flow to the hip must be restored. Sometimes, the hip has already suffered too much damage and the patient could require a hip replacement.

Other common complications include damage to surrounding ligaments, tendons, and hip joint, infection after surgery, and possible blood clots from an immobilized leg. Patients should be sure to have prophylactic treatment for blood clots during and after surgery.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons claims that the impact of a fractured hip, especially in the case of older adults, can include the following: increased rate of mortality, inability to maintain prior living conditions, an increased need for supervision and care, decrease in quality of life, less ability to move, and an increased risk for a secondary fracture in the hip or thigh bone.

Contact an Experienced Bone Fracture Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a Bone Fracture Attorney. Hip fractures occur every day but serious injuries that deserve the attention of a qualified medical professional. Anyone who has suffered a broken hip in an accident should call me at 916.921.6400 for free, friendly advice.

I am a member of the California Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Members of our forum are top injury lawyers who have obtained settlements or verdicts in excess of 1 Million Dollars.

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