Life After Hip Replacement
Total hip replacement surgery sounds scary, but it has become a relatively common and safe procedure. More than 326,000 adults in the U.S. had the procedure in 2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and the numbers are rising every year. Like all surgeries, it has its risks, including blood clots, infections, and hip dislocations. If you are in good health and follow the advice of your doctor and physical therapist, the risks of permanent restrictions after hip replacement are low, although certain precautions should be observed. For many people, life after hip replacement means less pain, easier movement, and the ability to maintain a more active lifestyle.
Hip replacement is major surgery, however, and it often takes months to recover completely. If you’re considering this procedure, talk to your doctor about your concerns and to find out if you’re a good candidate. If someone you care for is having hip surgery, it’s important to know the restrictions on their life after hip replacement, both in the immediate aftermath and for the weeks and months of recovery.
Life Immediately After Hip Replacement
You might be surprised by how quickly patients are encouraged to sit up, move around, and even begin walking after having a hip replaced – often the same day. This is done to help prevent blood clots from forming in the legs, which could be extremely dangerous. Pressure stockings or inflatable sleeves and blood-thinning medication may also be used. You are also likely to work with a physical therapist who can teach you exercises to help you regain your strength and mobility.
Most patients are required to stay in the hospital for a few days after their surgery to make sure that there are no serious complications. From there, you will typically be released to your home or to a rehabilitation center if you will need assistance with your recovery.
The First 6 to 12 Weeks of Life After Hip Replacement
You will need help once you return home, at least for the first month or two. Many patients are able to return to everyday activities after 12 weeks, although this will depend on the individual; for some, it can take 6 months or more to a normal life after hip replacement surgery. Following the instructions of your doctor can help keep your progress on track.
Make sure that you follow your physical therapist’s guidelines on exercise and movement – in addition to helping you to regain strength and mobility in your leg, regular gentle activity can help prevent blood clots. Your physical therapist will provide you a list of precautions because there are certain things you can’t do in the first few weeks after hip replacement surgery:
- Do not lift your knee higher than your hip (on the surgery side)
- Do not bend forward more than 90°
- Avoid low chairs or sofas
- Avoid soft seats that cause you to bend forward
- Avoid low toilet seats
As you can see, life after hip replacement means not being able to bend over fully and you won’t be able to reach up very high. You’ll find it difficult and painful to put much weight on your leg at first, and will need crutches or a walker to get around. You’re also likely to tire quickly, so make sure that you have someone who can help you with everyday tasks like cooking and cleaning. Do not drive until your doctor tells you that you can, usually after about 8 weeks.
It’s very important that you do not fall or do anything that could potentially damage the healing joint, so be careful and don’t take any chances. Many people make modifications to their homes, including adding grab bars in the bathroom, using a raised toilet seat, and taking advantage of devices like reachers, shoe horns, and tools for dressing. When sleeping, rest on the opposite hip or your back and place a pillow between your legs for support.
Life After Hip Replacement: Month 4 and Beyond
After about 3 months, most patients are given the OK to return to everyday activities, including work – although you may be approved earlier. With your doctor’s approval, you should be able to resume participating and sports and other recreational activities, although it’s best to stick to low impact activities like golf, swimming, and bicycling.
You may continue to experience mild swelling, although it should diminish by month 4. If the swelling is sudden or severe, contact your doctor immediately as it may indicate a blood clot.
You should continue to gain strength in your hip over time, especially if you continue pursuing a regular, low impact fitness routine. Life after hip replacement is likely to return to normal, although you’ll need to focus on avoiding risky activities. Sports including inline and ice skating, racquetball and squash, baseball, softball, football, and soccer all should typically be avoided, as they are high contact and have a high risk of falls.
Follow up with your doctor as required; the recommended schedule is 4 to 6 weeks after surgery, 3 to 6 months after, 12 months after, and each year following.
Every individual is different, so it’s impossible to know if there will be permanent restrictions after hip replacement for any specific person. There are also different types of replacement hips; some have been shown to last longer than others, but there is always the risk that the implant will wear out and need to be replaced. If you have a very active lifestyle, your implant could wear more quickly. It’s also important to avoid activities (such as those mentioned above) that are more likely to damage the implant, including heavy lifting and repetitive high-impact activities. Some hip implants also have a higher risk of dislocation, so you should avoid activities that cause you to aggressively flex your hip joint.
If you travel often by air, you should let the security screener know about your hip replacement. This is particularly important if there is metal in your implant that could set off a metal detector. It’s also best to avoid air travel immediately following your surgery without your doctor’s permission, as the restrictions on how you can sit plus possible pain caused by air pressure changes could cause swelling.
For most patients, life after hip replacement returns to normal, but with less pain. If you have any concerns, educate yourself and talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of hip replacement.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Hospitalization for Total Hip Replacement Among Inpatients Aged 45 and Over. https://www.cdc.gov/. 20 March 2020.