The force of a fall (how hard a person lands) plays a major role in determining whether or not a person will break a bone. For example, the greater the distance of the hip bone to the floor, the greater the risk of fracturing a hip, so tall people appear to have an increased risk of fracture when they fall. The angle at which a person falls also is important. For example, falling sideways or straight down is more risky than falling backward.
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Protective responses, such as reflexes and changes in posture that break the fall, can reduce the risk of fracturing a bone. Individuals who land on their hands or grab an object on their descent are less likely to fracture their hip, but they may fracture their wrist or arm. Although these fractures are painful and interfere with daily activities, they do not carry the high risks that a hip fracture does.
The type of surface on which one lands also can affect whether or not a bone breaks. Landing on a soft surface is less likely to cause a fracture than landing on a hard surface.
Preliminary research suggests that by wearing trochanteric (hip) padding, people can decrease the chances of fracturing a hip after a fall. The energy created by the fall is distributed throughout the pad, lessening the impact to the hip. Further research is needed to fully evaluate the role of these devices in decreasing the risk of a hip fracture following a fall.