Hip Replacement Recovery: What to Expect, Timelines, Outcomes
A Note From the Author
Several years ago, my uncle had total hip replacement surgery. When I searched for information about the operation and recovery, there was little to be found. So, with help from an orthopedic nurse, I wrote this article in order to provide others with an outline of what to expect.
Since publication, the article has acquired nearly 3,000 comments.
It is these comments that make the page valuable. For a purely medical perspective, there is now a wonderful resource here: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Hip_Replacement/
For more detailed and personal experiences, the forum (at the bottom of this page), is an invaluable resource.
Any surgery brings its worries but hip operations are routine and the techniques are well tested. Around 300,000 operations were performed last year in the US, alone. There is a very low rate of complications and hip replacement recovery is usually very good. For many people, a return to simple activities like walking a dog without pain are the gift of a lifetime.
As long as you have chosen a reputable hospital you should be able to let your medical team conduct your aftercare with full confidence. They know what is normal and expected during recovery and what is not. As long as you keep them fully informed of how you feel, they can take the best steps to reassure you or tackle any problems.
Typical Recovery Timeline
- The operation. This takes up to 3 hours.
- You will be monitored in a recovery room until you wake up.
- Once you are awake and ready to move, you will be taken to your hospital room.
- From the first day after surgery until you leave hospital, a physical therapist will introduce you to various exercises to speed up a return to full mobility in your hip.
- Returning home- you can travel in a normal car, though you will need to keep your leg straight. Some people with smaller cars remove the front passenger seat of their car and sit in back. Usually this isn't necessary. Your nurse can advise.
- After you return home (usually between one and three days after the operation) a physical therapist will work with you 3 or 4 times a week.
- Staples closing the incision (or incisions) will be removed after 14 days.
- You will be encouraged to gradually build up the amount of exercise as the weeks pass, though it is important to avoid falling and stairs will be a problem without the help of crutches or a walker.
- You can start driving again about six weeks after the operation unless you are still using pain medication.
- Follow up visits to your surgeon are typically at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months.
For many people, their new hip is a joy to use after only three months. They can walk long distances, cycle and even hike up mountains. For others, recovery might take longer- perhaps even a full year. This depends on many factors like pre-operation fitness, age, weight, discipline in following exercises routines etc. Certainly, the more closely you follow medical advice and the more you talk to your doctor, the more likely you will recover at an optimal rate.
Lifetime of Replacement Hip
Technology is always advancing and hip replacements are lasting longer and longer. A recent study found that the majority of hip replacements installed twenty five years ago are still fully functional.
The lifetime of new prosthetics is expected to be even longer.
Complications of Hip Replacement Surgery
Blood clots in the leg need to be carefully managed by the medical team with medication and special stockings.
About 2 percent of patients will suffer a serious infection. This usually results from bacteria entering the body after the operation, sometimes from dental work or sometimes from skin or urinary infections. Any dental work should be preceded by a course of antibiotics.
Things Patients find most Difficult after Surgery
Shortly after surgery:
- A burning sensation around the area of the incision. This can be treated with icepacks. The incision area should be kept dry, though.
- During sleep you shouldn’t cross the operated leg over the 'center line' of the body for a few weeks to avoid stressing the muscles and ligaments of the hip. Use plenty of pillows to support the leg comfortably and keep it in place.
- Pain in areas around the hip not previously affected. Trauma to various tissues during surgery can result in temporary pain- always mention any discomfort to your doctor.
- Clunking sounds from the prosthetic. In the first few months after surgery, the muscles that normally keep the hip joint tightly in place may be too weak. This can cause partial separation of the ball and socket, resulting in strange sounds. These should disappear with time. If there is any pain, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
- Emotional impacts. Some people have unrealistic expectations of the amount of time it will take to recover. They feel bad that they are letting people at work or home down or that they are a burden afer the operation. There are some great, candid discussions in the forums linked to below. Thinking- and talking- issues like this through before your operation could save a lot of upset.
After a few months:
- Stiffness after sitting down for a while, which might mean using a stick to start walking.
- Sudden jarring of the foot (produced by jumping say) can cause pain
- The joint may squeak during prolonged exercise.
- Hip replacement recovery after a year or so
- The vast majority of people simply forget they have ever had a hip replacement.
Hip Replacement Recovery Forum
The forum below is vast and can be opened successively in increments of 500 posts.
If you have a particular issue, the search feature in your page browser can help you to find comments that are relevant.