When you think about hip replacement surgeries, chances are you envision being immobile, experiencing lots of pain and being bed ridden for long periods of time while you recover.
While it’s certainly a big operation, it’s usually not as bad as people think. In fact, public figures such as Tom Jones and even Prince Philip were spotted out and about just weeks after undergoing their surgeries, and recovering from hip replacement is generally quicker than recovering from knee replacement.
So how long can you expect to be out of action after undergoing a hip replacement?
“Today, the care pathway for hip replacement surgery is very streamlined,” Justine Naylor, orthopaedics researcher at South West Sydney Local Health District, tells Starts at 60. “Different surgical approaches (the anterior or front approach, for example) are associated with faster recovery in some activities, but beyond three months, patterns of recovery are similar.”
In many cases, people are out of bed the day of surgery and the medical team will provide you with several pain relief options to ensure you sleep well and move comfortably. Some movement restrictions can apply, although your surgeon and physiotherapist will be able to explain how long the restrictions need to be implemented for your recovery.
While most people are out of hospital within three to five days after surgery, the recovery process continues for some time when you go home.
“Once you go home, you will need to continue some medications and exercises you were given whilst in hospital,” Naylor explains. “Most people are close to their full recovery by three months; by six months, recovery has often plateaued. It is important to see your GP within the first six weeks of surgery so you can ask about when to cease the pain relief given to you while in hospital and to check on any other health issues you have or had prior to surgery such as your blood pressure or blood sugar control.”
During the hospital stay, patients are given a drug to minimise blood loss, while antibiotics are used for less than 24 hours to prevent infection. Meanwhile, other medication can be used for up to four weeks to prevent blood clots, while surgeons may also prescribe compression stockings to be worn for up to six weeks after surgery to prevent clotting.
Like any major surgery, your wounds and muscles need time to heal, with most people experiencing muscle weakness after surgery. The type of rehabilitation a patient receives depends on their surgeon, location, the hospital they visited and whether or not they experienced problems after surgery.
“The good news is, for uncomplicated patients, simple home programs are suitable with some oversight by physiotherapists, GPs and surgeons,” Naylor says. “Most hospitals, through their physiotherapy departments, will provide you with some written information about what sorts of exercises are appropriate. Occupational therapists can also advise you on equipment use such as raised toilet seats, long-handled devices to aid reaching and shoehorns.”
People who experience major complications following surgery such as hip dislocation may require more supervised rehabilitation and may be referred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility. It should be noted that inpatient rehabilitation beds are more available in the private healthcare sector and aren’t always an option for public patients. Other patients can experience blood clots and other problems such as hip instability, leg-length differences and some temporary nerve injury.
Generally speaking, patients note a positive difference in hip function after around five weeks and by three months, their levels are close to the general population within the age-group. Within a year, mobility and function have usually returned to normal. Still, it is often advised that some activities such as driving, sitting on a low chair and tennis be avoided for some time after surgery.
“The advice will depend on the surgeon, the approach taken and depending whether you had any joint stability issues following surgery,” Naylor notes. “When you visit your surgeon after surgery – usually about at the six-week mark – remember to talk about what activities you can and cannot do.”
And, although you may want to rest up after surgery, it’s always a good idea to try and make the most of your new hip as quickly as possible.
“It is a lost opportunity to not deliberately try to embrace your new joint and try to get the most out of it,” Naylor says. “High impact activities like tennis or jogging are typically not recommended, but walking and swimming are usually well tolerated. It makes sense to try to age well if you are going to live a long time and remaining or becoming regularly active after hip replacement may allow you to do that.”