A broken hip is usually a fracture in the upper femur or thigh bone. These injuries can be painful and are typically treated through surgery. The injury combined with the surgery to treat it can involve a long process of rehabilitation. Being armed with the correct information and support can make navigating recovery that much easier.
Broken hips are, unfortunately, common, painful injuries. Having a fractured hip is a severe condition regardless of age. Especially in older adults, however, broken hips must be taken very seriously, or life-threatening complications may arise.
This article can serve as a guide to recovery after a broken hip injury for yourself or someone you care about.
Broken Hip Recovery
Broken hips commonly occur because of falls or severe impact from an accident.
Conditions like osteoporosis that cause bones to weaken can lead to an increased risk of fracture even after a minor fall.
Recovery after a broken hip is typically a combination of surgery, pain medication, and physical therapy. However, the recovery process depends on the way you broke your hip in the first place.
There are three general types of surgeries that are done based on how you broke your hip.
For older adults, deciding whether surgery is the best option involves deliberation of existing health conditions that can come with old age.
It is generally riskier to perform surgery on an older adult. Recovery after the surgery is also trickier for older adults as it may take more time or be more painful.
Either way, if there is enough damage to warrant surgery, according to your doctor, it may be the best way to prevent further injury or pain.
Your doctor may ask questions like:
- How severe is the pain?
- Can you put weight on the leg that is on the side of the broken hip?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
- Have you ever had surgery? Were there any complications?
- Do you have a family history of bone fractures or osteoporosis?
- Have you fallen recently or had another injury in the past to your hip?
Once the doctor has ascertained the severity of the hip injury, they will most likely go ahead with preparation for surgery. The surgery will typically be one of the following:
This surgery involves inserting screws into the bone that will hold the bone in place while the fracture heals.
Hip replacement is the avenue chosen if the fracture has hindered or damaged the pathways that bring blood flow to the joint.
Partial hip replacement
This surgery is usually done if the ends of the fractured bone are damaged or displaced. The top of the bone is replaced with a metal prosthesis. So there is the replacement of part of the bone but not the hip entirely.
Total hip replacement
This surgery involves the replacement of the thighbone and the socket of the pelvic bone with prostheses. This option is usually chosen when there is damage to the joint due to arthritis or another injury.
Many people are concerned about the risks of undergoing hip surgery, especially for an older adult. While most if not all surgeries come with a certain amount of risk, there are specific risks associated with surgeries of the hip:
Infection is usually preventable if the surgery went well, and the wound is kept sanitary afterward.
After hip surgery, the patient will not be allowed to immediately engage in the same amount of physical activity as before the injury. The wound will need time to heal, and there cannot be a lot of stress on the area. This reduced movement can lead to blood clots. Blood clots are prevented by exercising with a physical therapist, using compression socks that promote blood flow and taking prescribed medicines that prevent blood clots like blood thinners.
Bedsores or pressure sores occur on the skin that has been under continued pressure from being in a chair or bed for extended periods of time. After surgery, there will usually be a lot of time spent on bed rest. Some movement is also encouraged, but if the patient has health issues that prevent them from doing so, they will be spending a lot of time resting on chairs or beds. In this case, doing approved exercises with physical therapists and using the allowed limited movement you have is essential.
Broken Hip Surgery Recovery
Recovery can be arduous if you are an older adult due to the physical stress of healing and the risks of surgery. Often, if the recovery is not going as planned, a doctor may suggest looking to a long-term care facility.
It can be disheartening not to move for such a long time, leading to depression. Support and reliability from family or loved ones are crucial to the mental health of the person who has broken their hip. If mental health is not taken care of, it can hinder physical recovery, too.
Some equipment will need to be installed at home before the patient is discharged from the hospital after surgery. Most people spend at least one week in hospital after surgery, allowing time to set up home equipment.
It can be helpful to take advice from an occupational therapist about what you will need. Mobility aids like handrails or mobility scooters and walking aids like walkers and crutches are usually recommended. Any device like a scooter or a crutch should be used only if a doctor has allowed it.
Once you are discharged, you will also be informed of follow-up appointments and other things you should keep in mind to ensure a hassle-free recovery. Common recommendations are:
- Seeing a GP for follow up
- Taking a rehabilitation appointment at the hospital or another facility
- Staying in contact with healthcare professionals that are involved in the care of the patient
Pain is one of the most prominent symptoms for those that have had broken hip surgery. The pain may also feel especially noticeable because the hip is located at a juncture in the body that is quite dense and typically has a lot of weight placed on it. It can be disorienting and tiring to experience pain in your hip area.
Many doctors will prescribe medication that numbs the surgery site and keeps swelling down. Many patients also take blood thinners which prevent blood clots. Preventing blood clots is essential to avoiding dangerous health hazards after surgery, as clots can also form in the lungs, which can be fatal.
Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy
Rehab and physical therapy are the most crucial part of recovery post-surgery and take the most time. It can help you regain most if not all of your original mobility and independence and significantly speed up the recovery process.
Rehabilitation can occur in an orthopedic ward, a rehabilitation ward, or a geriatric orthopedic rehabilitation unit, which is meant for older adults.
The rehabilitation program will be tailored to your level of fitness and health. Some of the activities in the program may include:
- Weight-bearing or non-weight-bearing exercises
A physical therapist can help you begin to place weight on the side with the injured hip through activities like walking. They may also help you do exercises that do not involve weight-bearing, like swimming.
- Strength and balance training
- Treadmill exercise
Broken Hip Recovery Time
The outlook for recovery time depends on certain factors. It can take three months or more to recover completely from a broken hip and return to the same routine as before the injury. A doctor will determine or predict the outcome based on:
- Age: Older adults tend to suffer from conditions like osteoporosis, and may in general, have weaker bones. Sometimes they may not be healthy enough for surgery, leading to long-term bed rest, which can cause further complications. With age, it is more likely that recovery time will be longer.
- General health: Your health before the injury can be a significant indicator of how long healing will take. Often if the patient is in good health, they are encouraged to move and walk around quite soon after surgery, but this should only be done with a medical professional’s advice.
- The type of hip fracture: Severe fractures that cut off or hinder blood supply will take longer to heal. If the injury also caused damage to nerves, blood vessels, or other tissues, recovery takes longer.
Broken Hip Recovery – Elderly with Dementia
Someone with dementia is more likely to experience a hip fracture than someone who does not have dementia or a similar condition. Dementia patients are also more likely to develop delirium during the hospital stay after the surgery. There may also be complications with recovery if the patient suffers from memory loss.
However, while dementia can make recovery more challenging, your health before the injury is a more significant predictor of how well you will recover. Hence, with the proper physical and mental health support, recovery for dementia patients has a good outlook.
Hip fractures are painful yet common injuries among older adults. They can take a lot of resources and time to heal. The pain and extended bed rest can lead to delirium or depression, which cause long-term mental health impacts. While recovery from the physical ailment is important, choosing recovery options that do not severely impact the patient’s mental health is also essential.
Surgery, rehabilitation, and overall attentive care from loved ones can take time and lead to the best possible recovery.
- Hip fracture, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hip-fracture/symptoms-causes/syc-20373468
- Hip Fracture, Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17101-hip-fracture
- Recovery, Hip fracture, NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hip-fracture/recovery/
- WebMD, What to Know About Surgery for Hip Fractures, https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/what-to-know-about-surgery-for-hip-fractures
- Broken Hip, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/hip-fracture-surgeries