If your hip joint is so damaged or worn out that it’s rendering you unable to move your body the way you used to, you may need to undergo hip replacement surgery. First performed in 1969, it is considered a fairly routine procedure nowadays. According to data from 2010, about 2.5 million Americans are living with total hip replacements, most of them fully mobile despite their health problems.
Of course, as with any other surgical procedure, many people undergoing hip replacement surgery are worried about its safety and possible complications. How long does hip replacement surgery last and how soon before you have fully recovered from it? More importantly, what results can you expect?
Read on to find the answers to these and other common questions about hip replacement surgery.
Who Needs Hip Replacement Surgery?
As explained above, hip replacement surgery is usually recommended to people experiencing limited mobility due to worn out or otherwise damaged hip joints. Hip joint problems commonly occur in patients suffering from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or septic arthritis. People suffering from bone dysplasias (also known as dwarfism) often undergo hip replacement surgeries, but due to the characteristics of their condition, this procedure is much more complex than for arthritis patients.
Although it is very common, hip replacement surgery is typically recommended only if other treatment methods fail to relieve the patient’s pain or improve their mobility. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of hip joint damage, your doctor will usually try out physiotherapy and/or steroid injections before recommending surgeries. In addition, they will also consider the severity of your symptoms and look at your medical history to determine if your body is well enough to handle the surgery and the recovery.
How Long Does Hip Replacement Surgery Last?
Hip replacement surgery usually lasts a few hours, though you’ll have to spend a few more days at the hospital. As a rule, you should arrive at the hospital early on the day of the surgery where the doctors and nurses will prepare you for the procedure. Following surgery, you’ll be in the recovery room until you wake up from the anesthesia, after which you’ll be moved to your room for the next few days.
Your surgeon may opt for traditional hip replacement surgery or the alternative, minimally-invasive method. Many patients prefer the latter as it involves a smaller incision and may not require a multi-day hospital stay. However, it is only recommended for thinner, healthier patients who have never had hip replacement surgery before. Minimally-invasive hip replacement surgery is not recommended for people with diabetes, kidney disease, or any other condition that can slow down the wound healing process.
How Long Is the Recovery Process Following Hip Replacement Surgery?
Immediately after your hip replacement surgery, you will have to stay at the hospital for anywhere between two to six days. During that time, you will go to the bathroom with the help of a drainage tube installed in your bladder. Simultaneously, you will start physical therapy, which should enable you to walk with crutches, a cane, or a walker within a few days, usually by the time you leave the hospital.
Of course, your physical therapy doesn’t end there. Your body will need time to heal, restore its mobility, and get used to your new hip. To ensure that everything goes smoothly and without any complications, you will continue visiting your doctor and going to physical therapy for at least a few more weeks.
The recovery process following hip replacement surgery occurs in two stages.
First, there is the short-term recovery. During this period, you will gradually regain the ability to move your body – first with the help of walking aids and then without them. Simultaneously, you will slowly get off the painkillers prescribed by your doctor to help you sleep following surgery. The short-term recovery is usually considered complete once you’re able to walk a block or two around your house without resting, experiencing pain, or using walking aids. This normally happens 4-6 weeks after surgery.
On the other hand, there is the long-term recovery, which is considered complete once all your wounds have healed and you are able to return to your normal daily activities. The length of the long-term recovery varies from patient to patient. For some, the process is concurrent with short-term recovery and lasts for a few weeks, while some patients may need up to six months to fully recover.
What Are the Risks of Hip Replacement Surgery?
Although hip replacement surgery is generally considered safe, it is not without its risks. For one, blood clots may occur as a result of your very limited mobility during the first week or two of recovery. To prevent that, your doctor will prescribe blood-thinning medication like Warfarin or Heparin. As with other types of surgery, the incision wound may sometimes start bleeding and/or become infected.
Other possible complications of hip replacement surgery involve swollen nerves and numbness in the hip area, a dislocated hip joint due to improper posture during recovery, as well as breathing problems due to fat particles entering your lungs via the bloodstream. In addition, some patients may find that one of their legs is shorter than the other following surgery, though this can be prevented during the procedure.
How Long Will Your Hip Replacement Last?
A large study conducted over a period of 25 years and published in 2008 revealed that about 80% of hip replacements in patients under the age of 65 were working well 15 years after surgery. The results were even better in patients over 65, where 94% of hip replacements were going strong 15 years later.
The average longevity of a hip replacement varies from patient to patient. Many won’t experience any problems with their replacements for decades after surgery. However, about 2% of patients might need a revision hip replacement within five years of the first surgery. These repeat procedures are typically longer and more complicated than the first total replacement surgery and are considered riskier. What’s more, the recovery usually takes longer and complete pain relief may be impossible to achieve.
To ensure a fast and safe recovery following hip replacement surgery, there are certain things that you can do. For one, you should avoid climbing the stairs unless absolutely necessary. If your home has stairs or steps, set everything up so that you only have to use them once or twice a day.
While lying in your bed, you may want to put a pillow between your knees to ensure optimal body position. When you want to sit up straight, make sure to use a firm chair with a straight back to maintain proper posture. Declutter your room and remove all slippery objects (e.g. rugs) to prevent falls.
You should also consider investing in an elevated toilet seat to use while in recovery. They are usually rather inexpensive and will help ensure that you don’t bend too far at the hips while sitting down.