People can make a full recovery from pelvic fractures. However, possible complications can affect a person’s quality of life after a pelvic fracture. These can include impaired mobility, ongoing pain, and sexual dysfunction.

The pelvis is a ring of bones at the bottom of the spine and consists of the:

  • hip bones
  • midline sacrum
  • coccyx

A fracture occurs when there is a break in a bone. Pelvic fractures are rare and account for around 3% of all fractures in adults. As the pelvis is a very sturdy structure, most fractures involving bones in this area occur due to high impact trauma. These injuries also often occur due to falls in older adults.

In this article, we will discuss whether a person can fully recover from a pelvic fracture and outline what the long-term effects of a pelvic fracture may be.

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Healthcare professionals often refer to pelvic fractures as stable or unstable. These descriptions derive from how much damage the fracture has caused to the structural integrity of the pelvis.

If a person has a stable pelvic fracture, there is often only one break in the pelvic ring, where the broken ends of the bones line up. Stable pelvic fractures tend to heal well, and a person can often make a full recovery.

If a person has an unstable pelvic fracture, they may have two or more breaks in the pelvic ring. Here the ends of the broken bones do not line up correctly. High-energy events are the most common cause of unstable pelvic fractures.

The pelvis is close to some major blood vessels and organs. This means that unstable pelvic fractures can result in significant complications. These can include:

  • severe bleeding
  • internal organ damage
  • infection

If healthcare teams treat these complications successfully, unstable pelvic fractures usually also heal well. However, it is worth noting there is no gold standard treatment for unstable pelvic fractures due to common potential complications.

Most pelvic fractures become increasingly stable around 6 weeks after the event and typically heal within 3 months.

There may be some ongoing complications and long-term effects of an unstable pelvic fracture that may affect a person’s quality of life.

A person may walk with a limp for several months if the fracture has caused damage to the muscles around the pelvis. These muscles can take up to a year to reach the strength that they were before the fracture.

Other possible long-term problems that pelvic fractures can cause include:

  • pain
  • impaired mobility
  • sexual dysfunction

These complications may occur if the fracture causes damage to a person’s nerves or organs.

Studies show that people report significantly lower quality of life both mentally and physically up to 2 years after treatment for pelvic injuries.

However, pelvic fractures can lead to further injuries. This makes it difficult to attribute the lower quality of life to the pelvic fracture compared with these other associated injuries.

A person should avoid bearing all of their weight for some time after they have broken their pelvis. Once they can bear their own weight, they may wish to undergo physical therapy to help improve their recovery.

Physical therapy relating to pelvic fracture recovery may consist of:

  • Gait training: This is a set of exercises that a physical therapist may use to help a person improve the way they walk.
  • Resistive exercises: These are exercises that can help build the strength of the muscles around the pelvis. A physical therapist may focus these exercises on the trunk and the legs.
  • Cardiovascular training: This training method helps build a person’s cardiovascular fitness. Examples of these exercises include walking or running on a treadmill and using an exercise bike.

Additionally, physical therapy may help with some potential complications, which may include urinary incontinence or pain during sex.

If a person has a fractured pelvis, they should use crutches or a walker for some time until the fracture has healed. A doctor will often suggest avoiding full weight bearing activities for up to 12 weeks.

This means someone should initially avoid:

  • walking without crutches or a walker
  • manual labor
  • contact sports
  • standing for long periods unaided

It is important that a person does begin to allow partial weight bearing during the recovery process. This is to help prevent their muscles from degrading too much.

After the initial 12-week period of nonweight bearing is complete, a doctor will often advise the person to progressively increase the amount of weight they bear over a period of weeks. However, there are no specific guidelines for this, and a doctor will be able to advise.

The pelvis is a ring of bones at the bottom of the spine and includes the hip bones, midline sacrum, and coccyx. Pelvic fractures are rare and account for around 3% of all fractures. As the pelvis is very sturdy, most fractures occur due to high impact trauma. Another common cause of pelvic fractures in older adults is a fall.

If a person has a stable pelvic fracture, it should heal well, and they will often make a full recovery. Unstable pelvic fractures can cause significant complications, such as severe bleeding, internal organ damage, and infection. However, if doctors can treat these injuries effectively, these fractures usually heal well.

During recovery, a person should avoid bearing their full weight for around 12 weeks. At this time, they should also avoid activities such as walking unaided, manual labor, and contact sports.