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Recovering From a Hip Fracture: What to Expect

A hip fracture is a serious injury, especially among the elderly. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 300,000 people older than 65 are admitted to the hospital each year after suffering a hip fracture. Most of these injuries are caused by falling – usually by falling sideways.

The consequences can be severe. A broken hip can reduce future independence and life expectancy. The 30-day mortality rate after a hip fracture is about 9%. That number increases to 20% after a year. If a person has a pre-existing medical condition, those numbers are even worse.

Early treatment is critical. Most people with a broken hip will need surgery, which should be done within 24 hours of the break. Physical therapy will begin shortly after. This is essential to keep the joint limber, to maintain blood flow, and to prevent atrophy of the muscles.

Recovering from a broken hip can be a slow and painful process. Many patients will be resistant to therapy at first, as they are still in pain and tired from surgery. But the sooner rehab starts, the quicker and more successful recovery will be.

Getting started with therapy. Initially, therapy will consist of range of motion and strengthening exercises, many of which can be done in the patient’s bed. However, it is important to get the patient up and moving as quickly as possible, even if it’s just to move them from their bed to a chair. Within a few days, movement will likely include getting in and out bed, going for a walk and even climbing stairs.

Most patients remain in the hospital for anywhere from two days to a week. After that, many elderly patients may be discharged to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation before going home. Others may be discharged home. Whether they’re at a facility or at home and going to a clinic, physical and occupational therapy are critical to recovery. Physical therapy includes strength and balance exercises, while occupational therapy focuses on the activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming and bathing.

Preventing fractures

Fortunately, there are several things one can do to prevent falls, which are the main cause of hip fractures. Here are some that should be at the top of your list:

Exercise. Regular exercise is essential to increasing leg strength and improving balance, coordination and flexibility. Low-impact exercise such as tai chi, yoga or water aerobics may be recommended.

Review your medications. Some drugs cause dizziness or drowsiness, both of which increase your risk of falling. Review all your medications, including over-the-counter treatments, with your doctor.

Fall-proof your home. There are numerous steps you can take to make your home safer:

  • Install handrails on stairways.
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom near the shower and toilet.
  • Ensure rugs are secured with nonskid pads, tacks, or double-stick tape.
  • Make sure frequently used items are within easy reach.
  • Put nightlights in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Eat well. Malnutrition can weaken muscles, increasing the likelihood of a fall. Make sure you’re eating enough to get the vitamins and minerals you need. Of particular importance are Vitamin D and calcium.