Hip protectors are either padded or plastic devices which are fitted into special underwear and sit over the hip joint. They have been used widely in the past to help prevent broken hips in older people who may break their hip by falling sideways onto the area in the hip known as the greater trochanter (see diagram).
Below is a summary of hip protectors, how and if they work, and how to find the right one for you. You can find full details of hip protectors on the hip protectors and osteoporosis factsheet.
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How might hip protectors prevent hip fractures?
Different types of hip protectors can prevent hip fractures in a number of ways:
- Padded hip protectors are designed to absorb the energy of a fall.
- Semi-rigid and the older style hard shell plastic protectors work by diverting the impact away from the greater trochanter in the hip.
- Newly developed plastics which act to both absorb and disperse the energy of a fall are now being incorporated into modern hip protector pads.
The pads are mostly held in position by being incorporated into the underwear in a pocket which aims to keep the pad in place. It is important that the hip protector sits over the greater trochanter to offer the best chance of protecting you from a broken hip if you fall.
Do hip protectors actually work?
A recent large review of hip protector studies suggested that frail older people who wore hip protectors in nursing homes had a modest reduction in hip fracture. However there was no evidence of this reduction in people who used hip protectors in their own homes.
The reason for these findings is uncertain but it is possible that some individuals did not wear the hip protectors all the time or that they were not fitted properly. People in nursing homes may have benefited more because staff had been trained to fit the hip protectors and to encourage residents to wear them.
Choosing a hip protector
What is most important is how comfortable and easy a hip protector is to wear. When choosing a hip protector, consider which type might suit you best as they can vary in the materials they are made of, how they are cared for, their cost and general comfort.
In terms of effectiveness, the majority of studies measuring the number of broken hips prevented by hip protectors have used the older type hard shell hip protectors. However, experts looking at the mechanics of how the other types of protectors might work suggest they may be just as effective and that there is probably little difference between them.