Hip protectors for preventing hip fractures in older people

What are hip protectors?

Older people living in nursing care facilities or older adults living at home are at high risk of falling and a hip fracture may occur after a fall. Hip protectors are plastic shields (hard) or foam pads (soft), usually fitted in pockets in specially designed underwear. They are worn to cushion a sideways fall on the hip.

Do they prevent hip fractures?

We conducted a review of the effect of hip protectors to prevent hip fractures. We searched for all relevant studies up to December 2012. We found 19 studies with about 17,000 people who were around 80 years old.

Overall, there was moderate quality evidence from these studies for the following results.

In older people living in nursing care facilities, providing a hip protector
- probably decreases the chance of a hip fracture slightly
- may increase the small chance of a pelvic fracture slightly
- probably has little or no effect on other fractures or falls

In older people living at home, providing a hip protector
- probably has little or no effect on hip fractures

When wearing the hip protectors very few people had side effects, such as skin irritation. However, people often did not wear the hip protectors when they were provided. Better understanding is needed of the personal and design factors that may influence acceptance and adherence.

Authors' conclusions: 

Hip protectors probably reduce the risk of hip fractures if made available to older people in nursing care or residential care settings, without increasing the frequency of falls. However, hip protectors may slightly increase the small risk of pelvic fractures. Poor acceptance and adherence by older people offered hip protectors is a barrier to their use. Better understanding is needed of the personal and design factors that may influence acceptance and adherence.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Older people living in nursing care facilities or older adults living at home are at high risk of falling and a hip fracture may occur after a fall. Hip protectors have been advocated as a means to reduce the risk of hip fracture. Hip protectors are plastic shields (hard) or foam pads (soft), usually fitted in pockets in specially designed underwear.

This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 1999, and updated several times, most recently in 2010.

Objectives: 

To determine if the provision of external hip protectors (sometimes referred to as hip pads or hip protector pads) reduces the risk of fracturing the hip in older people.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (December 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 12), MEDLINE (1950 to week 3 November 2012), MEDLINE In-Process (18 December 2012), EMBASE (1988 to 2012 Week 50), CINAHL (1982 to December 2012), BioMed Central (January 2010), trial registers and reference lists of relevant articles.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing an intervention group provided with hip protectors with a control group not provided with hip protectors.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We sought additional information from trialists. Data were pooled using fixed-effect or random-effects models as appropriate.

Main results: 

This review includes 19 studies, nine of which were cluster randomised. These included approximately 17,000 people (mean age range 78 to 86 years). Most studies were overall at low risk of bias for fracture outcomes. Trials tested hard or soft hip protectors enclosed in special underwear in 18 studies.

Pooling of data from 14 studies (11,808 participants) conducted in nursing or residential care settings found moderate quality evidence for a small reduction in hip fracture risk (risk ratio (RR) 0.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.67 to 1.00); the absolute effect is 11 fewer people (95% CI, from 20 fewer to 0) per 1000 having a hip fracture when provided with hip protectors.

There is moderate quality evidence when pooling data from five trials in the community (5614 participants) that shows little or no effect in hip fracture risk (RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.58); the absolute effect is two more people (95% CI 2 fewer to 6 more) per 1000 people having a hip fracture when provided with hip protectors.

There is probably little to no effect on falls (rate ratio 1.02, 95% CI 0.9 to 1.16) or fractures other than of the hip or pelvis (rate ratio 0.87, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.07). However, the risk ratio for pelvic fractures is RR 1.27 (95% CI 0.78 to 2.08); this is an absolute effect of one more person (95% CI 1 fewer to 5 more) per 1000 having a pelvic fracture when provided with hip protectors.

The incidence of adverse events while wearing hip protectors, including skin irritation, ranged from 0% to 5%. Adherence, particularly in the long term, was poor.

Share/Save