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A hip fracture is a break in the top of the femur (thighbone) where the bone angles toward the hip joint. If the break occurs within two inches of the joint, it is called a femoral neck fracture. If it occurs between two and four inches from the joint, it is known as an intertrochanteric fracture. (A break further down the bone is classified as a broken femur rather than a broken hip.) Femoral neck fractures require more extensive surgery.
Hip fractures usually make it too painful for the person to stand. The leg may turn outward or shorten. They generally require hospitalization and surgical repair.
A person’s risk for suffering a hip fracture increases if he or she is over 65, female, or small-boned; has a family history of hip fractures; has osteoporosis or low calcium, which leads to bone weakness; smokes or uses alcohol excessively; is physically or mentally impaired; or takes medications that cause weakness or dizziness. Hip fractures are a common and serious problem for the elderly, for whom a simple fall in the home may be enough to break the bone.
Total Hip Replacement
The hip is a “ball-and-socket” joint where the “ball” at the top of the thigh bone (femur) fits inside the “socket” in the pelvis (acetabulum). A natural substance in the body called cartilage lubricates the joint. When the bone and/or cartilage of the hip becomes diseased or damaged from arthritis, hip fractures, bone death or other causes, the joint can stiffen and be very painful. A total hip replacement may be recommended for patients who experience severe hip pain and whose daily lives are affected by the pain.
In a total hip replacement, the diseased bone and cartilage are replaced with a metal ball and plastic cup. The artificial joint, called a prosthesis, may be cemented in place, may be cementless, or may be a hybrid of both. The surgery takes from two to four hours, followed by another few hours spent under observation in a recovery room. Patients usually enjoy immediate relief from joint pain after the surgery.
Physical therapy starts as soon as the first day after surgery with the goal of strengthening the muscles and preventing scarring (contracture). Therapy begins with the patient sitting in a chair and progresses to stepping, walking and climbing stairs, first with crutches or walkers and then without supportive devices. Occupational therapy and at-home exercises help patients learn how to use the prosthesis in everyday activities.
Total hip replacement is successful in over 95% of well-selected patients. On average, replacements last 15-20 years. Some patients enjoy full use of the prosthesis after 25 years or longer.