Hip Protectors: Do They Work?

May 20, 2016

Hip Protectors: Do They Work?

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Falls and hip fractures are a large problem in the elderly with about one-third of seniors falling each year, and 95 percent of hip fractures from falling. Hip protectors are now being used to lessen the likelihood of a fractured hip in the case of a fall. Hip fractures resulting from falls are dangerous because even after the physical injury heals, there are psychological scars that can remain.

Seniors that fall may experience a loss of mobility along with a decline of confidence. They can develop an intense fear of falling that may make seniors more dependent and less mobile. Seniors that fear falling may limit their mobile activity, leading to weaker bones and muscles, making them more prone to future falls.

Using hip protectors are one way that you can help your senior feel more secure and confident in their mobile abilities, especially if they have already experienced a fall.

What are hip protectors?

Hip protectors are plastic shields or foam pads worn on the hips with the intention of dispersing the force of fall. There are a few different kinds including pads sewn into underwear, underwear with pockets where the hip protectors can be placed or removed, and belts that can be worn outside of the clothing. There are also two different types of padding for hip protectors. The first is simply a soft pad that cushions a fall, and the other is a harder surface that disperses the force of the fall away from the hipbone and towards soft tissue like the thigh.

What have studies shown?

There have been a number of studies trying to determine the effectiveness of hip protectors, but most, if not all, have not been thoroughly conclusive. While some support evidence that hip protectors reduce the chance of hip fractures caused by a fall, there are others that found that there was no evidence that they helped. Initial studies showed the protectors to be promising, but more recent studies have not.

There were problems that arose in many of the studies such as a lack of adherence and problems in study design that resulted in inconclusive results. Most of the data did not support statistically significant results, but across multiple studies, there were a few potential conclusions that could be drawn.

In a review done in 2012 of all past relevant studies, there were moderate amounts of evidence that supported the following claims. For seniors living in a nursing facility, hip protectors may:

  • Slightly decrease the chance of a hip fracture;
  • Slightly increase the chance of a pelvic fracture;
  • Impact other fractures minimally or not at all.

And for seniors living at home, hip protectors probably impact hip fractures minimally or not at all.

Should you use hip protectors?

With much of the data collected leading to inconclusive results, should you use hip protectors or not? The answer to that is really up to you.

Seniors tend to not use them or only use them in the short term because they can be uncomfortable, but if comfort and usability were increased, more seniors might be willing to try them out. While the hip protectors on the market at this time do not necessarily decrease the likelihood of hip fracture in a fall, there is a lot of room for improvement. They may one day be a very effective measure to reduce hip fractures, but until then, the pads may or may not actually help.

Falls impact such a large number of seniors, so anything that you can do to lessen the likelihood of falling or the chance of a fracture is important. Even if the results of hip protector pads are indecisive, they might give you peace of mind.

One of the best ways to reduce falls is to strengthen your body, but many seniors fear being too active will cause them to fall. Physical health is important, so continually working on your balance, strength, and flexibility can help lessen the chance of falls therefore also reducing the chance of hip fractures. If you find that wearing hip protector pads makes you more comfortable completing tasks throughout the day, then wear them! If you do not think they help, then don’t wear them! The choice is up to you.

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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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