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.
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.
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.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become more common for people to do their physical therapy using telemedicine. 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.
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.
After patients recover from surgery, they often tell me that they wish they hadn’t waited so long to have the operation. 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.
Dr. Mathias Bostrom is Chief of the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service and Chief Emeritus of the Hip Service at HSS. He is a specialist in hip and knee surgery, especially in complex reconstructions and the treatment of musculoskeletal infections.