Many people fear hip fractures—and with good reason. Of all types of fractures, hip fractures have the most significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
Alarmingly, close to 25 percent of those over age 50 who break a hip will die within a year. In addition, 40 percent are unable to walk independently a year after they’ve broken a hip, and 60 percent are unable to perform basic activities of daily living, such as dressing themselves. Because of these devastating consequences, preserving and boosting bone mass and preventing falls and fractures are crucial.
A hip fracture usually occurs when a person falls from a standing position, with the hip taking the impact of the fall, although less traumatic falls also can cause hip fractures. More than 90 percent of the 350,000 hip fractures that occur each year in the United States are the result of a fall.
The rate of hip fracture begins to increase at age 50, doubling every five to six years. Nearly half of women who reach age 90 have had a hip fracture. Men account for nearly 30 percent of hip fracture cases. Although hip fractures occur less frequently in men than in women, they are more likely to lead to death in men.
The risk factors for hip fractures are:
• Being older than age 65
• Being female
• Having a family history of fractures later in life
• Low body weight
• Poor nutrition
• Smoking or excessive alcohol use
• Mental impairment
• Poor eyesight
• Unsteady balance
The symptoms of hip fractures are not subtle. They include pain in the groin or buttock, inability to put weight on the leg on the affected side, or pain when trying to bear weight. Hip fractures may also interrupt the nerves or blood vessels that supply the leg. All hip fractures require [surgical repair or replacement,](link to “treating hip fractures” when it goes live) and treatment is often required for injuries related to the fall, such as head injuries.
Other osteoporotic fractures
Because osteoporosis affects bone mass throughout the skeleton, it can lead to fractures anywhere in the body. Both the type and location of the trauma usually determine the kind of fracture involved. For example, falling on an outstretched hand can lead to a type of injury known as a Colles’ fracture (a break at the end of one of the bones in the forearm). The wrist and ribs are among the most common sites of osteoporotic fractures.
For a person with severe osteoporosis, simply sneezing or coughing may be enough to cause painful fractures of the ribs and spine. Such fractures can sometimes lead to deformities as well as pain.