Hip fracture (broken hip) is a serious injury that typically occurs in those age 65 or older and is more common in women due to bone weakening caused by osteoporosis. Most broken hips—over 95 percent—are caused by falls and can threaten mobility and independence. Prompt hip repair followed by a well-coordinated rehabilitation program offers the best chance for a complete recovery, but every injury is different, and hip fracture recovery timelines can vary. A positive attitude and willingness to work hard to rebuild strength and movement are the most important ingredients for returning to an active life.
Factors that Impact Hip Fracture Recovery Timeline
- Health status at time of injury
- Fracture type
- Existing chronic conditions (co-morbidities), such as heart disease or diabetes
- Muscle strength
- Mobility level prior to injury
Hospitalization and Surgical Repair of a Broken Hip
Hip fractures occur in the upper portion of the thigh bone, known as the femur. The most common areas for the fracture are the femoral neck (the portion of the bone just below the femoral head or ball of the joint) and intertrochanteric area between the femoral neck and the upper portion of the long femur bone. A hip fracture almost always requires surgical repair (using metal screws and plates) or a partial or complete hip replacement. Ideally, surgery should take place within 24-48 hours after the fracture occurs. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, surgical repair done within 24 hours was found to reduce the risk of death and complications.
After surgery, a typical hospital stay in the acute care hospital is from two to four days, or up to a week, although your stay may be longer or shorter. If you were healthy and active before the injury, you may even be a candidate for outpatient hip surgery, returning home the same day. It is important to begin moving as soon as possible after surgery to help you regain full mobility and lessen the risk of complications, such as blood clots. Over the counter and prescription pain medications will be given to help manage the pain, and antibiotics may be prescribed following surgery.
Rehabilitation starts almost immediately after the repair procedure. You may transfer to a chair within hours after surgery and may even stand. On the first or second day you may be encouraged to place full weight on your injured side, depending on your type of fracture and repair. You may require a cane, walker or crutches while you heal.
Often patients are fully weight bearing almost immediately after surgery, but depending on the type of fracture and repair, you could be designated non-weight bearing or partial weight bearing. Your physical therapist and healthcare team will instruct you on when and how to start bearing weight.
Inpatient Rehabilitation for Hip Fracture Recovery
Upon hospital discharge, you may go to an inpatient rehabilitation facility where a team of physicians, therapists and nurses will assist you with recovery. Keep in mind healing is often slower in elderly people. Successful rehabilitation requires a customized care plan designed to fit your diagnosis, abilities and goals.
Your physical condition and activity level before your hip fracture play an important role in your post-surgery recovery. Early rehabilitation and movement help prevent blood clots and muscle atrophy. Your therapist will assist you in exercises designed to help you regain strength and balance with a goal of performing activities of daily living, walking and stair climbing as tolerated. Expect to start slowly and build as your strength and endurance increases.
A typical inpatient rehabilitation stay is between 10-14 days, although some patients may require several weeks of therapy. A positive outlook and a willingness to work hard on recovery has been shown to be very beneficial for elderly people recovering from hip fracture.
Outpatient Rehabilitation for Hip Fracture
Since it can take several weeks or months to recover from a hip fracture, outpatient therapy may be required. If you were discharged to inpatient rehabilitation after surgery, you’ll continue to expand on the progress you made during that stay, working with physical and occupational therapists to improve your range of motion, strength and daily activities. If you return home immediately after hospitalization, you will likely need outpatient therapy.
Outpatient therapy could last from four to eight weeks. During this time your pain should lessen, while balance and mobility continues to improve. If you were active before your injury and do not have other health issues, recovery may be faster. Many hip fracture patients can drive again approximately six weeks after surgery and return to activities like golf and cycling within 12 weeks. If you had a total hip replacement, recovery time may be six months or longer.
Keep in mind, achieving full recovery requires a certain degree of self-discipline. Just because therapy sessions have ended, daily exercise, a healthy diet, regular social interaction and a positive attitude are still needed for continued improvement. The time and effort you put into your recovery will point you toward an active, healthy lifestyle going forward.