Hip Fracture in Emergency Medicine Clinical Presentation

Updated: Feb 28, 2016
  • Author: Moira Davenport, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
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In elderly patients, hip fracture most often results from a simple fall; in a small percentage, it occurs spontaneously, in the absence of any trauma.

Patient complains of pain and inability to move the hip.

With stress fractures in young athletes and nondisplaced fractures, patient may complain of pain in hip or knee and may be ambulatory.

Patient may have a history of other osteoporotic fractures, such as Colles or vertebral compression fractures.



Perform a primary survey in trauma patients and stabilize as needed.

Complete a detailed secondary survey because of the high likelihood of associated injuries. Up to 70% of patients with femoral head fracture-dislocations experienced major associated injuries, including other extremity injuries, intra-abdominal or intrapelvic injuries, neck injuries, and head injuries.

Pay particular attention to vital signs and secondary manifestations of shock such as changes in skin, mental status, and urine output. Hip fractures are associated with blood volume losses of up to 1500 mL.

Inspect and palpate for deformity, hematoma formation, laceration, and asymmetry.

Observe the anatomical position of the extremity because this alone provides useful clues to the type of injury the patient has sustained.

Femoral head fracture: Posterior dislocation is most common (eg, a dashboard injury), in which case the extremity appears adducted and internally rotated. With anterior dislocation, the extremity is abducted, and externally rotated.

Femoral neck fracture: With partial or completely displaced fractures (types 3 and 4, respectively), the patient has severe pain and lies with the extremity slightly shortened, abducted, and externally rotated. In the case of a stress fracture or severe impaction fractures (types 1 and 2, respectively), the only physical findings may be minor pain with little or no limitation in range of motion.

Trochanteric fracture: With a greater trochanteric fracture, the patient presents with pain, especially with abduction and extension. No deformity may be apparent, but pressure through greater trochanters will result is pain. With a lesser trochanteric fracture, pain occurs during flexion and internal rotation.

Intertrochanteric fracture: The extremity appears shortened and significantly externally rotated, in contrast to the minimal deformities associated with femoral neck fractures. Pain, hip edema and ecchymosis, and pain with any movement may also be noted.

Subtrochanteric fracture: The proximal femur usually is held in flexion and external rotation.

In assessing range of motion (ROM), first test external and internal rotation with the extremity held in extension. If a fracture exists, especially one that is displaced, the remainder of ROM examination is extremely painful, of limited diagnostic use, and potentially dangerous. If the patient has pain with the initial ROM examination, obtain radiograph before completing the examination.

Perform a detailed distal neurovascular examination.

If the patient is a trauma victim, assess for pelvic fractures by stressing the pelvis anteriorly to posteriorly through iliac crests and symphysis pubis, and laterally to medially through iliac crests.



In young persons, hip fractures generally result from trauma associated with significant force. For example, 75% of all femoral head fractures, more common among young patients, occur as a result of motor vehicle collisions.

In older persons, more than 90% of hip fractures result from trauma or torsion associated with a minor fall or, occasionally, in the absence of any obvious traumatic event.

Osteoporosis is the leading cause of hip fracture. Digital x-ray radiogrammetry (DXR) of hand or wrist radiographs predicted hip fracture risk in a study of 5,420 women and 2,837 men. Bone mineral density equivalent, calculated from DXR, was significantly lower in the 122 patients who later suffered a hip fracture than in the patients who did not experience a hip fracture. The age-adjusted hazard ratio per standard deviation change in DXR Tscore for hip fracture in the study was 2.52 and 2.08 for women and men, respectively. [15]

Other risk factors for hip fracture include the following:

  • Neurological impairment
  • Caucasian race
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Institutional living
  • Maternal history of hip fracture
  • Previous hip fracture
  • Physical inactivity
  • Tall stature
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Previous Colles or vertebral fracture attributed to osteoporosis
  • Low body weight
  • Impaired vision
  • Prolonged corticosteroid use
  • Use of medications that decrease bone mass, including furosemide, thyroid hormone, phenobarbital, and phenytoin