Ether you have just begun exploring treatment options or have already decided to undergo hip replacement surgery, this information will help you understand the benefits and limitations of total hip replacement. This article describes how a normal hip works, the causes of hip pain, what to expect from hip replacement surgery, and what exercises and activities will help restore your mobility and strength, and enable you to return to everyday activities.
If your hip has been damaged by arthritis, a fracture, or other conditions, common activities such as walking or getting in and out of a chair may be painful and difficult. Your hip may be stiff, and it may be hard to put on your shoes and socks. You may even feel uncomfortable while resting.
If medications, changes in your everyday activities, and the use of walking supports do not adequately help your symptoms, you may consider hip replacement surgery. Hip replacement surgery is a safe and effective procedure that can relieve your pain, increase motion, and help you get back to enjoying normal, everyday activities. First performed in 1960, hip replacement surgery is one of the most successful operations in all of medicine. Since 1960, improvements in joint replacement surgical techniques and technology have greatly increased the effectiveness of total hip replacement.
The hip is one of the body's largest joints. It is a ball-and-socket joint. The socket is formed by the acetabulum, which is part of the large pelvis bone. The ball is the femoral head, which is the upper end of the femur (thighbone).
The bone surfaces of the ball and socket are covered with articular cartilage, a smooth tissue that cushions the ends of the bones and enables them to move easily.
A thin tissue called synovial membrane surrounds the hip joint. In a healthy hip, this membrane makes a small amount of fluid that lubricates the cartilage and eliminates almost all friction during hip movement.
Bands of tissue called ligaments (the hip capsule) connect the ball to the socket and provide stability to the joint.
The decision to have hip replacement surgery should be a cooperative one made by you, your family, your primary care doctor, and your orthopaedic surgeon. The process of making this decision typically begins with a referral by your doctor to an orthopaedic surgeon for an initial evaluation.
There are no absolute age or weight restrictions for total hip replacements. Recommendations for surgery are based on a patient's pain and disability, not age. Most patients who undergo total hip replacement are age 40 to 80, but orthopaedic surgeons evaluate patients individually. Total hip replacements have been performed successfully at all ages, from the young teenager with juvenile arthritis to the elderly patient with degenerative arthritis.
There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend hip replacement surgery. People who benefit from hip replacement surgery often have:
Your orthopaedic surgeon will review the results of your evaluation with you and discuss whether hip replacement surgery is the best method to relieve your pain and improve your mobility. Other treatment options - such as medications, physical therapy, or other types of surgery - also may be considered.
In addition, your orthopaedic surgeon will explain the potential risks and complications of hip replacement surgery, including those related to the surgery itself and those that can occur over time after your surgery.
Never hesitate to ask your doctor questions when you do not understand. The more you know, the better you will be able to manage the changes that hip replacement surgery will make in your life.
An important factor in deciding whether to have hip replacement surgery is understanding what the procedure can and cannot do. Most people who undergo hip replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of hip pain and a significant improvement in their ability to perform the common activities of daily living.
With normal use and activity, the material between the head and the socket of every hip replacement implant begins to wear. Excessive activity or being overweight may speed up this normal wear and cause the hip replacement to loosen and become painful. Therefore, most surgeons advise against high-impact activities such as running, jogging, jumping, or other high-impact sports.
Realistic activities following total hip replacement include unlimited walking, swimming, golf, driving, dancing.
If you decide to have hip replacement surgery, your orthopaedic surgeon may ask you to have a complete physical examination by your primary care doctor before your surgical procedure. This is needed to make sure you are healthy enough to have the surgery and complete the recovery process. Many patients with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, may also be evaluated by a specialist, such a cardiologist, before the surgery.
Several tests, such as blood and urine samples, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and chest x-rays, may be needed to help plan your surgery.
Your skin should not have any infections or irritations before surgery. If either is present, contact your orthopaedic surgeon for treatment to improve your skin before surgery.
Tell your orthopaedic surgeon about the medications you are taking. He or she or your primary care doctor will advise you which medications you should stop taking and which you can continue to take before surgery.
Several modifications can make your home easier to navigate during your recovery. The following items may help with daily activities:
After admission, you will be evaluated by a member of the anesthesia team. The most common types of anesthesia are general anesthesia (you are put to sleep) or spinal, epidural, or regional nerve block anesthesia (you are awake but your body is numb from the waist down). The anesthesia team, with your input, will determine which type of anesthesia will be best for you.
Many different types of designs and materials are currently used in artificial hip joints. All of them consist of two basic components: the ball component (made of highly polished strong metal or ceramic material) and the socket component (a durable cup of plastic or ceramic, which may have an outer metal shell). The prosthetic components may be "press fit" into the bone to allow your bone to grow onto the components or they may be cemented into place. The decision to press fit or to cement the components is based on a number of factors, such as the quality and strength of your bone. A combination of a cemented stem and a non-cemented socket may also be used. Your orthopaedic surgeon will choose the type of prosthesis that best meets your needs.
The surgical procedure takes a few hours. Your orthopaedic surgeon will remove the damaged cartilage and bone and then position new metal, plastic, or ceramic implants to restore the alignment and function of your hip.
After surgery, you will be moved to the recovery room where you will remain for few hours while your recovery from anesthesia is monitored. Later, you will be taken to your hospital room.
You will most likely stay in the hospital for a few days. To protect your hip during early recovery, a positioning splint, such as a foam pillow placed between your legs, may be used.
After surgery, you will feel some pain, but your surgeon and nurses will provide medication to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Pain management is an important part of your recovery. Movement will begin soon after surgery, and when you feel less pain, you can start moving sooner and get your strength back more quickly. Talk with your surgeon if postoperative pain becomes a problem.
Walking and light activity are important to your recovery and will begin the day of or the day after your surgery. Most patients who undergo total hip replacement begin standing and walking with the help of a walking support and a physical therapist the day after surgery. The physical therapist will teach you specific exercises to strengthen your hip and restore movement for walking and other normal daily activities.
It is common for patients to have shallow breathing in the early postoperative period. This is usually due to the effects of anesthesia, pain medications, and increased time spent in bed. Your nurse may provide a simple breathing apparatus called a spirometer to encourage you to take deep breaths.
You may have stitches or staples running along your wound or a suture beneath your skin.
The stitches or staples will be removed approximately 2 weeks after surgery.
Avoid getting the wound wet until it has thoroughly sealed and dried.
Exercise is a critical component of home care, particularly during the first few weeks after surgery. You should be able to resume most normal light activities of daily living within 3 to 6 weeks following surgery. Some discomfort with activity and at night is common for several weeks.
Your activity program should include:
The complication rate following hip replacement surgery is low. Serious complications, such as joint infection, occur in less than 2% of patients. Major medical complications occur even less frequently. However, chronic illnesses may increase the potential for complications. Although uncommon, when these complications occur they can prolong or limit full recovery.
Infection may occur superficially in the wound or deep around the prosthesis. It may happen while in the hospital or after you go home. It may even occur years later.
Minor infections of the wound are generally treated with antibiotics. Major or deep infections may require more surgery and removal of the prosthesis. Any infection in your body can spread to your joint replacement.
Blood clots may form in the leg veins or pelvis. Blood clots in the leg veins or pelvis are the most common complication of hip replacement surgery. Your orthopaedic surgeon will outline a prevention program which may include blood thinning medications, inflatable leg coverings, ankle pump exercises, and early mobilization.
Sometimes after a hip replacement, one leg may feel longer or shorter than the other. Your orthopaedic surgeon will make every effort to make your leg lengths even, but may lengthen or shorten your leg slightly in order to maximize the stability and biomechanics of the hip. Some patients may feel more comfortable with a shoe lift after surgery.
This occurs when the ball comes out of the socket. The risk for dislocation is greatest in the first few months after surgery while the tissues are healing. Dislocation is uncommon. If the ball does come out of the socket, a closed reduction usually can put it back into place without the need for more surgery. In situations in which the hip continues to dislocate, further surgery may be necessary.
Over years, the hip prosthesis may wear out or loosen. This is most often due to everyday activity. It can also result from a biologic thinning of the bone called osteolysis. If loosening is painful, a second surgery called a revision may be necessary.
Nerve and blood vessel injury, bleeding, fracture, and stiffness can occur. In a small number of patients, some pain can continue or new pain can occur after surgery.
Follow your orthopaedic surgeon's instructions carefully to reduce the risk of blood clots developing during the first several weeks of your recovery. He or she may recommend that you continue taking the blood thinning medication you started in the hospital. Notify your doctor immediately if you develop any of the warning signs as told to you.
A common cause of infection following hip replacement surgery is from bacteria that enter the bloodstream during dental procedures, urinary tract infections, or skin infections. Following your surgery, you may need to take antibiotics prior to dental work, including dental cleanings, or any surgical procedure that could allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. Warning signs of infection. Notify your doctor immediately if you develop any of the following signs of a possible hip replacement infection:
A fall after surgery can damage your new hip and may result in a need for more surgery. Stairs are a particular hazard until your hip is strong and mobile. You should use a cane, crutches, a walker, or handrails or have someone help you until you improve your balance, flexibility, and strength.
Your orthopaedic surgeon and physical therapist will help you decide which assistive aides will be required following surgery, and when those aides can safely be discontinued.
To assure proper recovery and prevent dislocation of the prosthesis, you may be asked to take special precautions - specially for the first 6 weeks after the surgery:
You may feel some numbness in the skin around your incision. You also may feel some stiffness, particularly with excessive bending. These differences often diminish with time, and most patients find these are minor compared with the pain and limited function they experienced prior to surgery.
Your new hip may activate metal detectors required for security in airports and some buildings. Tell the security agent about your hip replacement if the alarm is activated. You may ask your orthopaedic surgeon for a card confirming that you have an artificial hip.