If you’re one of the nearly half a million Australians set to undergo hip replacement surgery this year, you’ll know how daunting and scary the prospect of having the major operation can be. While celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Georgie Parker and Tom Jones have been open about their surgery and their recovery process, the steps before the surgery itself can be just as scary.
For most, osteoarthritis (OA) is the main reason they’ll be undergoing surgery due to inflammation of the joint surfaces. People typically experience pain around the hip, groin and buttocks, although it’s not uncommon to also feel pain in their knees. For others, working physical jobs, experiencing trauma or being overweight can increase the risk of needing a replacement, while health conditions including congenital dysplasia of the hip and avascular necrosis of the hip can lead to surgery.
Before an operation is suggested, health professionals need to be sure what is triggering the pain in the first place.
“Other non-surgical treatments like physiotherapy from an expert in OA, and/or weight loss and muscle strengthening should all be tried first,” Justine Naylor, orthopaedics researcher at South West Sydney Local Health District tells Starts at 60. “Walking aids such as canes can help reduce the load through the hip, though many people are reluctant to try them. All these treatments will be more effective earlier in the course of the disease so it is important to seek these alternative approaches when you first feel you have a hip problem.”
Wait times can depend on whether you are going private or through public health. Private insurance can mean you have surgery within weeks of seeing a surgeon, while public patients can wait between three and 12 months. Although frustrating, it’s not always a bad thing.
“The wait time gives you time to get mentally and physically ready, and also get your house and social supports in order for a successful transition home,” Naylor explains. “There is often much preparation involved, so waiting for surgery is not always a bad thing.”
One of the key aspects of recovery is ensuring you have a support network to help you and it’s something you’ll need to have sorted before you go into surgery. In addition, your medical and health status will need to be in order to ensure you can go under surgery.
“Depending on your history, you may also need to see other medical specialists like a cardiologist or respiratory physician for your heart or lungs or endocrinologist if you have diabetes or thyroid issues, or a urologist if you have prostate problems,” Naylor says.
Losing weight can help ease the surgery process, while there are public hospitals around Australia that can help people prepare for surgery. For private patients, access to physiotherapy clinics or exercise physiologists can also help the process.
While many don’t think about it, mental health is also important when it comes to surgery. It can be a stressful time and patients need time to focus and manage their recovery, while others can become depressed or anxious about what’s in store for them.
It’s also important to be aware that you may be asked to reduce certain medications before undergoing surgery.
“This includes some anticlotting or blood thinning medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” Naylor says. “If you have been taking strong opioids for some time, you may be asked to try to wean off them. A history of heavy alcohol use can affect your recovery so this should be discussed with your anaesthetist.”
Where possible, it’s important to educate yourself about the procedure and to ask your GP, surgeon and physiotherapists as many questions as you need to.
As for the surgery itself, it typically takes between an hour and 90 minutes to complete.