What Does Life Look Like After a Hip Replacement?

During hip replacement surgery (also called total hip arthroplasty), portions of your hip joint that have been damaged by disease are removed and replaced with metal, plastic or ceramic parts. The most common cause of damage to the joint is osteoarthritis.

A woman and man smiling while hiking together.

Hip replacement surgery takes a few hours. Patients usually go home the same day or the next day. This is very different from when I started three decades ago. Then, patients would come in a day or two before surgery and stay for two weeks afterward.

There is pain after surgery, but you start to feel better very quickly. You may need to use a cane or crutches for a week or two, but recovery tends to be fast.

Recovering from hip replacement can feel overwhelming to some people. But after surgery, patients often tell me that they wish they hadn’t waited so long to have the operation. Here are some other things I tell patients to help them get ready for recovery.

Rehab after hip replacement is not as extensive as you may think

You will need rehabilitation and physical therapy after your surgery, though it’s less extensive than it is for many other types of joint replacement surgery. The most important reason to work with a physical therapist is that they can help make sure you’re positioning your hip properly.

The standard protocol for patients is two weeks of recovery and rehabilitation at home, and then outpatient physical therapy for anywhere from two to four weeks. That’s usually enough.

Get your walking shoes on

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become more common for people to do their physical therapy virtually. It’s been impressive to me how well patients do with this form of physical therapy.

The best therapy after a hip replacement, though, is walking. It’s important for you to get up and move the hip a lot. You should also change your position regularly when you’re sitting.

There are few long-term limitations after hip replacement

I don’t give patients a lot of limitations. After three months of recovery, I encourage them to be active − hiking, biking, swimming. The only physical activity I’m not enthusiastic about is running. Replacement joints function very well, but they’re not native joints. They’re not designed for you to be a marathon runner. If you treat them with respect, they will last you the rest of your life.

People who need to have their second hip done tend to recover faster

And if they have arthritis in both hips, which is common, they generally get the operation on the second side much sooner. Recovery after surgery on the second hip is easier as well, because you already have your new hip on the first side to help you.

Preparation before surgery is just as vital to healing as what you do afterward

A little preparation can go a long way. At HSS, we take many steps before and after surgery to help our patients heal faster. For example, we offer specialized programs to help people lose weight and quit smoking before surgery, since research has shown those measures can help speed recovery. Our pre-habilitation program gives patients a chance to build strength in certain muscles around the hip prior to surgery. We also provide very personalized support for patients with sleep apnea, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions that could have an effect on recovery.

Authors

Image - Photo of Mathias P. Bostrom, MD
Mathias P. Bostrom, MD
Chief of Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service, Hospital for Special Surgery
Attending Orthopedic Surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery
     

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