After a total hip replacement (THR), many people are eager to return to an active lifestyle – and with good reason! The benefits of exercise after a THR are endless: improved cardiovascular fitness, psychological satisfaction, muscle strength, flexibility, bone growth as well as improved coordination, balance, and endurance. However, it is natural to have some questions and concerns: When is it safe to start exercising again? Which activities or sports are safe to participate in? How much is too much?
While everyone’s recovery is unique, and you should always follow the advice of your physician and physical therapist, these guidelines will help give you an idea of what to expect and how to plan your return to activities.
In the first 6 weeks after surgery, major goals include strengthening, balance, training, and progressing to walking without the use of an assistive device. In the following 6-12 weeks, it is important to focus on more advanced therapy goals. These may include regaining full strength, improving endurance, being able to function at home independently (getting dressed, for example), and going up and down stairs reciprocally.
When you have met your physical therapy goals, are not experiencing any pain, and the x-rays taken by your surgeon look good, you will likely be ready to return to athletics. Your physical therapist and physician will let you know when the time is right, but total hip replacement patients typically return to sports activities 3-6 months after surgery.
Speak with your surgeon and physical therapist about the best post-operative activities for you. Studies have shown that patients who participated in a particular sport pre-operatively are more likely to be able to return that sport safely. In addition, patients with a lower Body Mass Index often experience a smoother transition back to activities and sports. There are plenty of options, so feel free to discuss them and ask questions!
While different surgeons may have different recommendations, low-impact sports are generally safe for patients to participate in after having a total hip replacement. These include (but are not limited to) swimming, doubles tennis, golf, hiking, cycling, low-impact aerobics, and rowing. These activities also have a low fall risk, which is extremely important after having a total hip replacement.
Other sports like downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, weight lifting, ice skating, roller-blading, Pilates and yoga involve more impact and an increased risk for falls. It is advised that you be cleared by your surgeon before participating in these activities.
It is strongly recommended that high-impact sports with high fall risk and possible contact be avoided after a total hip replacement. These include any sports involving running, jumping, and repetitive high impact on the hip, specifically racquetball, squash, basketball, soccer, football, softball, snowboarding, and high-impact aerobics.
Wherever your interests lie, there are many activities that you can enjoy safely once you’ve recovered from total hip replacement surgery. This is a new chapter in your life and wellbeing, make the most of it!
For more information on hip replacement, please visit https://hss.edu/condition-list_hip-replacement.asp.
Christi Loftus is a physical therapist with the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery.