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Hip replacement—or “hip arthroplasty”—replaces diseased parts of your hip with new, artificial parts. Yes! They remove part of your hip and replace it with a “prosthesis” (an artificial device). This surgery usually increases your ability to move, improves the function of your hip, and relieves your pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 332,000 total hip replacements are performed in the U.S. every year. 1
Who’s a candidate for hip replacement? Anyone with hip joint damage that causes pain and interferes with daily activities—despite treatment—may be a candidate for hip replacement surgery. Osteoarthritis (arthritis) is the most common cause of hip damage; other causes are injury, broken bones, and tumors.
Here’s the good news! Doctors used to reserve hip replacement surgery for people over 60 years of age. They thought older people were less active and would put less stress on the artificial hip than younger, more active people. However, in recent years, doctors have found that hip replacement surgery can be very successful in younger people. The new artificial parts can withstand more stress and strain and last longer.
So, it’s not just for Grandpa! Today doctors look at a person’s overall health and activity; these are more important than age in predicting a hip replacement’s success. And, people who have surgery before advanced joint damage occurs tend to recover more easily. That’s good news!
However, doctors still like to try other methods of treatment before they replace your hip—like exercise (exercise can strengthen the muscles around the hip joint) or walking aids (canes and walkers can take away some of the joint stress). They also like to try medication—usually acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil). Topical medicines (e.g., rub on products) can sometimes provide pain relief. And sometimes the doctor will inject a steroid into the joint.
However, if all these have been tried and you are still in pain and still have trouble with the Activities of Daily Living (ADL)—the latest buzz word!—like walking and climbing stairs, then the next step might be a hip replacement. Doctors used to cut through all of your muscles, and then hip replacement took a long time to recover from. But, now they have perfected minimally invasive surgery with a mini-incision (cut); and they just move your muscles aside. So now recovery time is much shorter.
Regardless of how the surgeon enters your body, what still happens is usually this: the diseased bone and cartilage are removed, the healthy parts are left alone, and replacement parts are inserted. Usually the “acetabulum” (part of your pelvis) and the “femoral head” (top of the leg bone) are replaced with metal or ceramic (the ball and socket). No, you don’t become the bionic man or woman. But, your hip joint (after recovery) will begin to work much like it did when you were younger. And you can get back to the activities that you love.
On the day of surgery, or the day after, you can sit and even walk. And you can come home in a few days. Be sure to arrange for a driver! Follow your doctor’s instructions once you get home. This will you give you the best chance of a successful recovery.
After surgery you’ll need some help around the house for a week or two. And you’ll need to have a place to sit with the TV remote and the telephone close. Everyday items are best kept at waist level to avoid reaching and bending. And frozen casseroles come in handy! A physical therapist can come to your house and teach you exercises to do. Full recovery takes about 3 to 6 months. But many people are back to driving at 6 weeks!
Complications can include hip dislocation, loosening, inflammation, infection, leg length difference, defective devices, and blood clots. Your doctor will tell you the signs and symptoms to look for. However, researchers are always working to develop new surgical techniques, better materials, and improved design. Today, hip replacement is one of the most successful orthopedic surgeries performed.