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Monday, January 26, 1998 Published at 02:35 GMT


Broken hips common health problem for elderly
image: [ The Queen Mother leaves hospital after her first hip operation. ]
The Queen Mother leaves hospital after her first hip operation.

The Queen Mother's broken hip is nothing unusual for a woman of her age. The injury is one of the most common health problems for the elderly.

Fractures often follow falls and the most likely location of the break is across the neck of the thigh bone, or femur.

Elderly women suffering osteoporosis or thinning of the bones are the most common victims.

The chances of suffering this type of fracture doubles roughly every seven years after the age of 65 - one woman in four has suffered a broken hip by the age of 90.

Recommended first aid for a suspected hip fracture includes immobilisation of the patient's hips by binding the legs together from the feet upwards.

Sometimes, the bone fragments become considerably displaced and the broken hip can cause severe pain in the hip and groin.

[ image: Replacement hip joints]
Replacement hip joints
If that happens an operation becomes necessary either to realign the bone fragments, fasten them together using metal plates or screws, or replace the hip altogether.

The patient normally regains movement of the hip straight after the operation, although they cannot walk again immediately.

However, if the fracture is relatively simple and the broken bones are still aligned, the patient is normally only confined to bed for several weeks while the bones knit back together.

Hip replacements are usually only recommended for elderly patients as the artificial joints can themselves wear out.

With either type of hip fracture, the patient begins walking again, first with crutches before progressing to a walking frame, then with a stick and finally unaided.

The hip is the largest joint in the body and its versatility - the ball and socket giving movement in three dimensions as well as rotation - allow humans to walk upright.

However, this extensive movement also means that the hip becomes one of the most worn joints in later life.

Almost everyone who reaches the age of 70 has some degree of osteoarthritis, caused by excessive wear, in their hips.

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