May 11th, 2011
11:30 AM ET

How long does a broken hip take to heal?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Asked by Faye from Farmville, North Carolina

How long does it take to completely recover from hip fracture? I fell on December 8, then had surgery December 10 and came home from the hospital December 11. I'm doing well - walking with a cane but still limping.

Expert answer

Dear Faye:

A broken hip is one of the most common orthopedic injuries in people over the age of 65. It usually occurs as a result of a fall. It is often associated with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is often referred to as having brittle bones due to a loss of calcium.

Although there are several kinds of hip fractures, most are repaired with a hip replacement, also known as a total hip arthroplasty. Approximately 150,000 hip replacement operations are done each year in the U.S., and 500,000 are done worldwide. About half of these surgeries are done under emergency circumstances for a broken hip, and half are planned surgeries because of arthritis or other hip problems.

In this operation, the top of the femur (thigh) bone is cut off and a "man-made" top of femur replaces it. This prosthesis is circular or ball-like on top and generally made of metal. A semicircular plastic liner is placed in that part of the pelvis known as the acetabulum. This is where the upper leg comes in contact with the pelvis. The ball-like top of femur sits and moves in the semi-circular acetabulum, and this defines the hip joint.

In the surgery, a lot of muscles and ligaments are pulled and held away from the joint to allow the surgeon access. In this process, these soft tissues are damaged and need to heal after surgery. The patient who has a routine recovery can expect bruising of muscle and inflammation of the tendons at a minimum. These flesh injuries and tendonitis can be extremely painful and limit mobility. It can take several months to a year before complete recovery.

Those whose progress becomes stagnant at any time after surgery should have an evaluation by their orthopedic surgeon. The most common reason for a plateau in recovery is muscle weakness. Patients do benefit from regular physical therapy. Weight training and stretching can strengthen muscles and stretch ligaments. It is unfortunate that there is a tendency to skip physical therapy or take short cuts. This is a special problem among older patients.

Leg length discrepancy is also a common problem after surgery. Orthopedists do work hard to minimize leg length discrepancy, but it is difficult to do. A shoe lift may be needed to equalize the limb length, and some patients do end up needing a cane permanently.

Less common problems are heterotopic ossification and loosening of the artificial hip.

Heterotopic ossification involves a fibrous band that grows about the joint. It causes a stiffening of the hip and can begin occurring 10 days to two years after hip surgery.

Loose hip prostheses were a significant problem 20 years ago but less so today. Loosening of the artificial hip is more common among people who are overweight. When walking, a heavier person puts more stress on the prosthesis as it goes into the bone. Both heterotopic ossification and loosening of the prosthesis are diagnosed with physical examination and radiologic imaging.

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Willem

    My story:
    43 years old
    Enthousiastic mountainbiker( doing marathons of 100 kms).
    I did brake my hip at the end of a mountainbike trip at the square near my home.(4.5 weeks ago)
    4 hrs later a surgeon put 3 canulated screws in my hip and stated the day after that I could load it with 50%.
    left the hospital the day after (as soon you can walk upstairs with crutches you can go home in the Netherlands.)

    2 times a week fysiotherapy
    2 weeks always with 2 crutches.
    after 2 weeks 1 crutch at home; 2 outside.
    last 1.5 weeks always with 1.
    today I started as much as possible without.
    Expectation is that I don't need them anymore end of next week.

    after 1 week I could do 5 round on a hometrainer.
    1 day later I could do 2 minutes.
    4 days later I could do 3×10 minutes!
    After 3.5 weeks I biked my first 25 kms!
    Ik was amazing to see how fast the swelling was gone as soon as I started cycling on a hometrainer!

    fast recovery.
    biking go's better then walking.
    Make sure you have a hometrainer at home; it really helps (but make sure you align with your fysiotherapist)

    Risk is still necrose of the hip; I expect to be in the 80% that doesnot have it!

    March 25, 2016 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Omar Martinez

    Hi i broke my hip and i got out of hip surgery about a week ago and now I'm home, i am 16 years old and it happened while playing soccer. I just wanna approximately how long will it take to heal for i can go back to walking.

    March 28, 2016 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Maggierey

    Just had surgery 8 days ago in France after a skiing accident. My hip has been pinned. I'm 70 and I was so determined to keep skiing, but now the jury is out. I can't imagine having the confidence to let myself speed down a hill.
    Now the issue is controlling the pain and forcing myself to keep walking. I have progressed to one crutch in the house, but it is painful. I can't bear to think of it going on like this for months.

    March 29, 2016 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 18, 2016 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. John

    I fell on May 8th and broke my femur. I had the Gamma Nail surgery on the 9th. Used a walker only for the 1st week then graduated to cruches. Still only toe touch weight bearing but making progress. I have a computer job so I went back to work last week. I had to cut down on the Norco cause it was messing with my head. Now I'm only taking 5mg every 4 hours. My next appointment is June 17th. I'm also a drummer and I can't wait to get back behind my kit. Anyone know how long that might be? Thanks.

    June 1, 2016 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. michael

    (sorry bout any spelling or grammer issues . glasses are not within reach and its alot of work to get to them .)

    With that said . Male 47 . fairly physical lifestyle to date . alot of ice hockey up untill 8 yrs ago . . anyways . super bad car accident . fifty plus miles per hour into a parked semi . in a mini van to make it even better . ... complete shattered foot . totally broken ankle as in disconected . a 12 inch compound fracture on my shin . and my femur puched through my pelvis . cup . included a clean break to pelvis itself and a mangled sockett. (Thank god for the blessed gift of shock ) didnt feel a thing . .
    Two surguries from what i was told to be one of the top 12 orthopedic sergeons in the world and a week in the hopspitol . straight to my house on my back.. with the pain killers . i had very mild hip pain when i would move . for a couple weeks . (mind you) with pain killers. my ankle probably shadowing out the hip pain because that was horrable still is bad .
    What my question. first set of ex-ray images showed early ankle healing and all 5 plates 16 or more screws and bones were in goosd placement with no signs of shifting .. I found my self moving a bit more than instructed and quite a bit two days ago . Ankle is on a steady decline in pain level but my hip now has become sore . a slight dull ache and sharp pain when moving the joint . tollerable but painfull . still no weight bearing instructions by the doctor . and actually only a few times while on my crutches to catch my balance or when manouvering in and out of bed was any preasure applied to the best of my recollection . Never enough to have caused my hip to hurt .at that momment . It is going on eight weeks right now .
    Are these pains in my hip to me expected or did i cause it to non union or do damage to any of the physicians excellent work . . . wont see him for another three weeks . very concearned i may have done something that i will; regret . any feedbakck ? thanks . and I am very luck as aside from the ankles swelling pain. at worst for all injuries . my pain was peaking at a 6 . .... i feel soory for you people experiencing bad pain . that is the worst . god bless you and get you through to a speedy recovery .
    I hope im not in for some suprises of my own that i am not expecting . as im at eight weeks . My body is syaing no it is getting better but i got a long road ahead i am sure . thanks for the ear .

    August 5, 2016 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. tripro27

    I disagree, read
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    August 21, 2016 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • biba

      Can't access your link... 😦

      November 19, 2016 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
  8. B

    I am 53 years old going 54. Type 2 Diabetes. I recently had a fall and cracked my left femoral head. 3 screws were installed the following day, with walking the day after surgery. I was told my surgery was a "success" and my surgical wounds did heal within 10 days. I have general weakness on my left leg, even with the walker. Other than I cannot tolerate weight on my left leg, I have tightness on my thigh muscle, ham string and knee. It feels like it's burning/tearing. I tried to ice it but still very tight.
    It has been 2 months post op. I can now walk with a cane and is currently doing PT. I can still feel the sharp pain pulsating in my hip and groin especially if I sit too long or too much weight on the leg. I still cannot bend my knee. Other than taking pain killers occasionally, heat and ice therapy, what else can I do to relieve the pain? Thanks.

    December 20, 2016 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. khefistan

    It was good to read varied experiences of Hip bone surgery ...I too have had one on my left side .. three mths ago.
    I use walker or stick and able to move with a limp
    I lived in a fourth floor without a lift
    Now I am in another's home on the ground floor after weeks of hospitalisation and Hip replacement surgery at Square in Dhaka
    May I return to my flat with a four story climb without a lift
    Can a Doctor write me advice on my wish to return home on my flat

    December 26, 2016 at 04:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Richard

    What if you crushed your pubis bone and now u out are 1/2 inch short on one side, can anything be done with a pubis replacement?

    January 4, 2017 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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