Diagnosing and Testing for Broken Hips

Jul 12, 2016

Diagnosing and Testing for Broken Hips

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Every year more than 300,000 American seniors aged 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually sideways. Hip fractures are devastating for the elderly community because even after the injuries heal, the link between mobility and confidence in the senior may be destroyed.

Diagnostics and Routine Tests

Before receiving treatment for a broken hip, doctors will provide a physical examination as well as an x-ray to identify the site of the fracture. If the fracture is difficult to reveal through this type of imaging, other techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans will be used to produce detailed pictures of the hip area and its surrounding muscles, tissues, and fat.

During the physical examination, doctors will check for areas of the leg or pelvis for signs like swelling, bruising, or subtle deformities. If the affected leg is slightly shorter than the unaffected leg, there is a reason to believe that there is a fracture in need of immediate medical attention. All kidding aside, you’ll probably be first one to know that you’ve experienced a fracture – these tests will simply help doctors identify the type and severity of your injury.

Understanding Your Fracture Type

After the fracture is understood, the injury will likely be placed in one of three categories:

Femoral Neck Fractures

These type of fractures occur 1 to 2 inches from where the head of the bone meets the socket of the femur. Since the neck of the femur is usually the weakest part of the bone, these injuries are common. Fractures of this kind may cut off the blood circulation to the ball of the hip by tearing blood vessels, so proper and immediate treatment is absolutely critical.

Intertrochanteric Hip Fractures

These fractures occur farther away from the ball and socket, so the risk of losing circulation isn’t as high. Usually, these fractures occur 3 to 4 inches away from the joint itself, so treating this area of the bone can be a bit more straightforward.

Intracapsular Fractures

These type of fractures affect the actual ball and socket of the hip, causing a tearing of the blood vessels that nourish the joint. This type of fracture may lead to a high incidence of healing difficulties, so again, proper and immediate treatment is critical.

Imaging Options for Hip Fractures

When x-rays cannot provide enough of a detailed picture to diagnose a hip fracture, doctors may use either MRI or CT machines to get a better look at the site of the injury.

MRI machines use powerful magnetic fields and radio frequencies to produce detailed images of the targeted bodily structures. These tests can take longer than CT scans and they also do not use radiation. Generally speaking, MRIs are suited more for soft tissues and organs than for harder structures like bone.

CT scans expose patients to a small dosage of x-rays with a special dye that allows the inner structures of the body to be displayed. Given the advances in technology, CT scans are now much faster and less harmful than in the past, however, the risk of sustaining any negative effects from the radiation has been relatively low compared to other environmental risks.

A trained radiologist can interpret either of these scans, helping doctors to provide a quick and accurate diagnosis. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What's the average recovery time for hip surgery?

This will depend on your overall health and how involved you are with your rehabilitation and healing process. Immediately after the surgery, you or your loved one will stay three to four days overnight. During your recovery time, you will participate in physical therapy for your broken hip, and will also want to continue to rehab your hip with exercises at home. Eventually, within a month you should be able to walk with the help of crutches or a walker. A few months after that, you should be able to walk on your own.

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How does osteoporosis play a role in hip injuries?

Osteoporosis is a decrease in bone density and this means your bones, including your hips, can become extra fragile. Those with osteoporosis have a higher chance of injuries resulting in broken bones. Those with osteoporosis can break or fracture bones just by sneezing in some severe cases. If you are at risk of developing osteoporosis, contact your doctor to discuss which treatment options might be most appropriate for you. 

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