Q: I am due to have hip replacement surgery soon and I am wondering how long it will be before I am able to continue with my life as normal? Does it take longer than for knees?
A: Total hip replacement surgery replaces the upper end of the thighbone, otherwise known as the femur, with a metal ball and relines the hip socket in the pelvic bone with a metal shell and plastic liner. Some doctors recommend taking antibiotics before and after surgery to prevent infection in the joint.
After surgery, you will also receive strong painkillers and possibly also anticoagulant medications to prevent blood clots, depending on your age and previous medical history.
After a few days of strong pain medications, you may only need mild ones such as Tylenol with codeine. It is important that the pain is adequately dealt with because you will be expected to get out of bed, with help, as soon as possible after surgery, usually the next day.
Most people are allowed to return home less than a week after surgery, but you will need physiotherapy and special leg exercises.
For about the first six to eight weeks, you should take the following precautions to prevent the new hip from dislocating:
- Avoid combinations of movement with your new hip.
- Do not sit with your legs crossed.
- Avoid low chairs, beds and toilets. You can get an extension for the toilet to raise the seat about six inches.
- Do not raise your knee higher than your hip on the affected side.
- Avoid leaning forward when you are in the process of sitting down or standing up.
- Try not to rotate your leg too far out.
You may need to use crutches or a walker for a few weeks after surgery, but you should be back to normal or even better than normal after six months.
Although I have heard some people complain that knee surgery is more painful than a hip replacement, the recovery time is more or less the same. Most people are so relieved not to have the severe pain of osteoarthritis that they hardly complain of the post-surgery pain.
When joint replacement procedures were first performed in the early 1970s, patients were told that the average artificial joint would last about a decade. Now, 85 percent of implants will last 20 years or more. Improvements in surgical technique and artificial joint materials could make them last even longer.
Clare Rowson is a retired medical doctor in Belleville, Ont. Contact: [email protected]