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 (93 Responses)
  1. 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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  3. 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
  4. 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
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  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. Ella

    Can anyone please help me? I'm 16 and about 2 (nearly 3) years ago, I fell on my hip after I slipped off of the stairs. When I told my mom about it, she didn't believe that there was pain. Long story short, I got "treated" (they just made me walk with crutches and it got better after awhile) and was able to walk. A year later, I transferred schools and I had to dance for a presentation (it was mandatory). I had the pain in my hip again after awhile. The pain is so strong that I can't move for 10-20 minutes. I had to limp. My parents thought I was faking the pain, so it took awhile before we got help. After a few months I got therapy and was able to walk properly without struggle (although not for very long).

    It's been nearly a year since then, but it came back. I lied down one time and I felt so much pain in that same area that I couldn't get up. I just want to know if any of you have some advice?

    May 12, 2017 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Coleman Sweeny

    As long as you have a paid insurance policy and money or credit cards that aren't maxed out, you will get great care recovering from anything medical in this Country. If not, you probably won't get past the emergency room doors. Just as well, as if you can still drive, you can work. Have to keep your taxes paid on time, and out of jail if possible.

    May 23, 2017 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Irma

    Shattered my femor..had surgery next day..Jan 23,2016.. have done well...leg shorter..had shoe built up..I am 75..walk everyday..and do exercises...Concerned about Screws loosening...had two rods..one at the Pelvic/hip area and one down to knee..I have tired to take care of myself..have back pain..but keep going..made me cry when I read on line life expectancy is two years or in a facility...Depressing when i want to have hope...Other than my back I am not in pain..But Screws loosening does concern me..I do not want to go through another surgery...Because of age and my heart...Thanks for listening....

    May 26, 2017 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Frances Fletcher

    17/5/2017 I experienced my 5 stroke and so by falling broke my left hip at the neck of the femur – I am 84 – I have a Pacemaker – therefore the 1 1/2 hour preparation time was very painful without sedation – all went well until I was discharged – too soon – my 83 year old Husband the next day had gone into surgery for Open Heart Bypass 5 blocked arteries – he was in another Hospital south of where I was John Hunter in Newcastle NSW – Nurses great – social worker, physio and OT young inexperienced Girls – I received no assistance from them as I was going home to an empty Home - this they knew – I was alone for 5 days until I found help through My Aged Care – I did all the research towards assistance in the Home by myself – the Social Worker refused to organize Community Transport for me, she told me to go and purchase items I wanted to hire e.g. toilet seat, walker – and so I experienced no assistance and it took 3 1/2 hours for me to be discharged – I had to ring a Girlfriend who is a full time Carer for her Husband who has dementia – he sat for 3 1/2 hours and she kept on running back and forth to make sure he didn't leave the car – it was a nightmare that should never have occurred! I complained to John Hunter Hospital Director and CEO – no replies? I finally wrote a 3rd time and received an answer from a Female who passed me over to another Female who eventually rang me and told me I was a LIAR?
    I have checked out as to whether the Social Worker had qualifications or not – lo and behold she hasn't?
    The Surgeon placed a large gamma nail into my broken hip – now 6 weeks on – with my own form of Physio and determination I am back driving my car – walk as much as possible before pain sets in without a stick – got rid of the walker quick smart – I am determined to get back to my normal active life – but never would I return to John Hunter Hospital – besides I am Privately Insured – alas – Ambulance refuse to take me to a Private Hospital! Upon arrival I was placed in a Ward with 3 other Patients – I turned on my TV quietly to watch the ABC news as I do each morning and the Male Patient beside me hopped out bed and demanded I turn off the TV (which he could not hear but see) "I don't like TV during the day" said he – so I very quickly told the Nurse I was a Private Patient and to move me – which occurred – when I woke up after surgery I was in a Private room – this would never have happened if I hadn't spoken up!

    July 4, 2017 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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  17. Flem

    I am a 28 year old male and I broke my hip 29 weeks ago. Because it was put back together with screws and nothing else, it is about as painful as it Wass when I broke it now. It's getting worse, the screws are poking out and I have to have more surgery. They won't give me a replacement because I'm young and active and say it will be at least another six months.
    It's a pain because I can't work and will now have a big gap as I am about to be self employed. This is pretty much the worst case scenario though.

    December 29, 2017 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Brendon

    Hey guys I fell five metres fractured my hip 2 weeks ago to this day . Diagnosis left subcapitalneck of femurfracture requiring left dynamic hip screw placement.let out of hospital on day 3 .on crutches no swelling only in first week doing recommended exercises .no weight bearing for six weeks .slight pain moving around in bed but can lay on my back and right side to sleep stopped taking pain meds as only slight pain now .feeling good hopefully I will have a fast recovery .im 42 enjoyed reading all your stories

    December 3, 2018 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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