December 14, 2018
We trip, we fall and when it happens, one in four accidents will be an emergency. Older Americans are more prone to falls, but according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, fewer than half will tell their doctor about the event. Are you a fall risk? Do you have problems with balance and taking steady steps or walking stairs?
The femur (thigh bone) is the largest and strongest bone in your body but falling can cause severe injuries -- from bruising to swelling, even hip dislocation or fracture – 95% of all hip fractures are caused by falling, according to the CDC website.
Women tend to fall more often than men. Females also have a higher rate of osteoporosis than males. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that weakens the bones and makes fractures more likely. Being in a car crash is the top cause of femur fractures. Athletes with a hip or thigh sports injury are more likely to suffer from thigh bruises, IT band bursitis or labrum tears to the hip socket. All of these conditions cause severe pain and can affect how we walk, stand and even sleep. St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital ER physicians are trained to take care of all types of hip, thigh and bone emergencies, including a joint dislocation.
If you do witness or experience a fall, especially one that causes pain to the thigh and hip area, follow these precautions and call 911.
Evaluate the following things:
Is there intense pain in the hip and groin?
Look for any deformity in the leg. It may be hard to distinguish fracture from dislocation. The leg will look crooked or shorter than the other leg. Putting weight on the leg will be very painful and should be avoided.
Is the pain closer to the knee? The lower part of the femur could be fractured. The knee will swell, and bruise, and the hip joint will “lock and pop.”
How do you know when it’s a medical emergency?
A fall that causes severe injury to the hip and femur bone is an emergency. These types of accidents are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI). At St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital, it’s common to see hip, leg and knee injuries. Falls from a great height or a car accident injuring the femur can also affect the brain and spine or other organs in the body. Getting immediate emergency care from physicians experienced in treating femoral bone fractures can prevent serious complications such as blood clots, nerve or blood vessel damage, bone infections (osteomyelitis) and even the potential of developing pneumonia.
For older adults, falls tend to happen in the home or in places that are familiar. Adults who are taking blood thinners or other medications may get lightheaded which increase the likelihood of trips and falls. Once someone falls, human nature causes us to err on the side of caution and minimize movement, but avoiding physical activity results in weakened muscles causing more health risks. Physical weakness, brittle bones, vision and walking difficulties all contribute to fall risk. Whenever someone comes to the ER with a fall-related injury, our St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital staff take the time to talk to our patients about the circumstances of the fall and how to prevent these types of accidents in the home. To determine fall risk, the most widely used scale below shows the various criteria for determining an individual’s fall risk.
While most falls do not cause serious injuries, when swelling and bruising does not resolve, see your physician. Ask about the medical conditions that increase your risk of falling. The more fall risk conditions you have, the greater the chance of injury. Ask your health providers about how to prevent falls and treat balance disorders.
Symptoms of a broken bone, including the femur, include:
- Bluish discoloring of the skin and swelling
- Deformity of the injured area
- Heavy bleeding at the injury site
- Intense pain in the injured area that gets worse when you move it
- Possible bone protrusion through the skin
If you or someone you know suspects that they have broken a bone, go to the St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital for appropriate treatment or call 911 especially when head and neck trauma is involved or if there is substantial bleeding or protruding bones. Until help arrives, onsite first aid includes:
Stopping any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound using a clean cloth.
Immobilizing the injured area.
Applying a cold pack to the area 10 minutes at a time.
Watching for shock and applying a blanket to keep warm.
If an elderly adult falls, don’t delay in getting medical assistance. For seniors, falls are the leading cause of death due to injury; 25% will need to be hospitalized for their injuries.