Hip Replacement Recovery Tips
For those who have suffered through years of pain and immobility brought on by arthritis, congenital bone diseases, accident or age hip replacement surgery can be a life-altering procedure that restores full range of motion and frees them of the often excruciating pain that comes with diseased or damaged joints.
But while there is no debating the merits of this type of surgery the fact is that it’s not an event. The surgery itself is but one step in a recovery process that includes physical therapy and lifestyle changes as you’ll see in the following hip replacement surgery recovery tips.
What’s Involved with Hip Replacement Recovery?
Recovery from hip surgery begins the minute the operation is complete. You’ll be taken to the recovery room where you’ll be closely monitored for any signs of trouble and stay there until you awaken. Once awake you’ll be taken to your room typically with some form of pad strapped between your legs to keep them immobile and apart for the time being. As the anaesthesia wears off you will be treated with some pretty strong painkillers to dull the effects of the surgery. Within the first 24 hours any drains or drips should be removed and once that happens you’ll be encouraged to sit up and then start taking your first tentative steps with your new hip.
The Beginning of Your Physical Therapy
At some point within the first 24 hours after surgery you’ll be visited by your physical therapist who will help you take those first steps. They’ll monitor how well you perform and discuss your therapeutic options going forward. From this day onward your physical therapist will become an integral part of your life and the person who guides you through the steps to complete recovery. They’ll start with the basics like those first steps, but even before that they’ll go over the right way and the wrong way to sit up, get in and out of bed, sit in a chair and more. It will be important for you to do things the way they want you to do them. If you don’t you could cause damage to the still fragile hip joint. Before you check out of hospital the physical therapist will have laid out a visitation schedule and provided you with some simple hip replacement recovery exercises you can do on your own in between their visits.
It’s important that you start planning the logistics of your recovery from hip surgery before the surgery happens. By the time you check into the clinic or hospital you should already know who is going to be doing your food shopping for you once you get home, who is going to do your laundry, who is going to run your errands. You will have already arranged your bed so that it’s ready for you. If it was on the 2nd floor you will have had it moved to the first floor or brought in a temporary first floor bed so that you don’t have to climb stairs for the first few weeks. You will have stocked your fridge with foods that are easy to cook and you will have made sure there are plenty of movies to watch, books to read and a stable Internet connection so you can stay in touch with the outside world. Once you get home you’ll commence doing the daily exercises the physical therapist laid out for you and begin building good exercise habits.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
Recovery time for this kind of surgery will depend on a range of factors including the patient’s age, weight, physical condition and any extenuating circumstances or pre-existing conditions. As a general rule however it’s fairly safe to say that most hip replacement patients will be able to return to a more or less normal life within 6 months; perhaps as short as 2 or 3 months depending, as we say, on the particular person. You should also keep in mind that there is a difference between short term recovery and long term recovery.
- Short term recovery is that which deals with the time period between the immediate aftermath of surgery and the time a person is able to start driving again. This is usually a period of between 4 and 8 weeks. On the first day after surgery most patients are standing with the help of their physical therapist and a walker. By the third day most are well enough to go home where they will begin the process of recovery in earnest. Short term recovery is also typified by the patient gradually being weaned from painkillers. So, when the patient is off pain killers, able to drive, able to care for themselves and able to walk around the block without negative side effects they are considered to have completed the short term recovery phase of their journey.
- Long term recovery is measured first and foremost in terms of the total healing of the wound along with the soft tissues inside. Beyond that the patient needs to be able to return to work on a regular basis and be able to perform all the normal activities of daily life. It’s also crucial that the patient feel normal again, not simply act normal. In approximate terms then the long term recovery period typically runs from about 2 months to about 6 months after surgery, or about 4 months in total.
What are Some Common Recovery Pitfalls?
If the patient adheres to the schedule of hip replacement recovery exercises that have been laid out for them and does not behave in a counterproductive manner the recovery process is usually fairly straightforward. However, as hip replacement is major surgery there are a number of potential complications that could arise, including:
- Hip joint dislocation – During the short term recovery period the soft tissue is not yet capable of supporting the joint the way it eventually will. Without proper support from the muscles around it the ball of the joint can become loose and even pop out of the socket without very much prompting. There are certain postures that can lead to hip dislocation, in particular moving of the leg past the centreline of the body. This pulls on the muscles around the joint which weakens their supporting position.
- Loosening of the hip joint – This is regarded as one of the most common complications of hip surgery. In this case the femoral shaft that has been anchored in the core of the thigh bone becomes loose. When this happens the entire joint is affected and the level of discomfort can be considerable. Your natural gait is also affected and this can lead to a cascade of muscular issues. The reasons why the femoral stem would come loose include poor quality cement holding the stem in place or thinning bone around the stem.
- Stiffening of the joint – In some cases the soft tissues around the new joint can stiffen up over time and cause a reduction in mobility. While this is certainly an inconvenience and something to be addressed it does not usually generated significant pain. In most of these instances the problem can be prevented with medication and sometimes radiotherapy.
- Metal allergy – Occasionally a person will have an artificial joint installed without realizing they are allergic to the metal used in that joint. A short time after the joint is installed inflammation develops which can lead to other complications. In extreme cases of allergic reaction the joint may fail, necessitating further surgery.
- Blood clots – An uncommon but real side effect of hip surgery is the development of blood clots, particularly in the leg. Blood clots that form in the leg have the potential to migrate to the lungs or even the brain. If you suspect you may have developed blood clots make sure you call your doctor immediately so they can administer anticoagulants and take any other necessary measures.
- Infection – Whenever surgery is involved there is always the chance of infection, no matter how remote. Should you develop a fever or chills, a persistent pain in the hip or notice any sort of discharge from the incision seek medical help immediately.
How to Avoid Those Pitfalls
Almost all the pitfalls of hip surgery can be avoided by taking the following common sense tips to heart:
- Take antibiotics before, during and after your hospital stay – This will minimize the risk of developing an infection.
- Don’t try to do too much too soon – This is a common mistake people make that can have serious consequences.
- Avoid becoming sedentary – There is always the temptation to become sedentary when recovering from any type of major surgery but spending too much time lying about after surgery can lead to blood clots, pulmonary embolism and more.
- Do all your exercises – One of the biggest reasons people experience complications later on is that they’ve failed to exercise properly and the hip has stayed weak and susceptible to dislocation and other complications.
- Make sure you eat and drink enough – Dehydration and a lack of nutrients can sabotage your recovery from hip replacement. Make sure you’re eating enough and drinking plenty of water every day. Also, avoid alcohol.
- Keep your follow-up appointments – Because the long term recovery process can take 6 months or more it’s crucial that you keep all your follow up appointments so that the doctor can nip any problems in the bud before they derail your recovery.
Typical Recovery Timeline
The following represents what a typical hip replacement recovery timeline for a patient in generally good health with no complications following surgery. Hip replacement recovery time for elderly will be longer.
1 – 2 Days Following Surgery – In the first couple of days following surgery you can expect to:
- Sit up in bed with assistance, stand with a walker and take a few steps.
- The physical therapist will become part of your life and remain so through the end of the long term recovery period.
- Your IV will likely be removed and you’ll be put on oral medications.
- You will begin eating normally again.
3 Days Following Surgery – This should be your last day in hospital during which you can expect to:
- Take a walk down the corridor using crutches or a walker to say goodbye to the staff.
- Take your first tentative stab at handling some stairs.
- Reduce the amount of pain medication you are taking.
- Receive your home exercise regime from the physical therapist.
- Be discharged.
1 Week Following Surgery – By this time you will be settled in at home and making the most of your hip replacement recovery time by:
- Exercising 2 or 3 times per day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
- Making sure you keep your incision dry at all times.
- Monitoring yourself for signs of blood clots or infection.
- Further reducing the amount of pain medication you’re taking.
- Perhaps going for your first short walk outdoors.
2 Weeks Following Surgery – By now you’re more mobile and regaining hip strength (albeit incrementally). You should also:
- Have your staples removed at about the 2 week mark.
- Continue exercising as directed by the physical therapist.
- Walk around the block with the help of a cane or crutches.
- Start taking showers.
4 – 6 Weeks Following Surgery – In most cases this represents the end of the short term recovery process. By the 6 week mark you should be able to:
- Start driving short distances (automatics only however).
- Walk without assistance most of the time.
- Return to work on a regular basis.
- Enter a more advanced phase of physical rehabilitation.
4 – 6 Months Following Surgery – Under normal circumstances your hip replacement recovery time should be up by the 6 month mark. You will be able to:
- Work full time.
- Perform all the normal daily activities.
- Drive without worry.
- Transition out of physical therapy.
Here are some of the most common hip replacement recovery questions asked by prospective patients about the recovery process.
Will I be in Pain All the Time?
This is a common misconception but understandable given that we are talking about a major surgical procedure. Thankfully, while there will no doubt be pain involved in the immediate aftermath of this kind of surgery, that pain will begin to subside fairly rapidly over the course of the first week. Whatever you do experience should be handled effectively by the pain medications you’re given. Any short term pain you do experience should also seem like small potatoes compared to the pain you were in before surgery.
What Will Those Pain Medications Be?
During surgery you will receive a general anaesthesia that will wear off in a few hours. After that you’ll be on an intravenous drip for several more hours and then transitioned to an oral pain medication by the end of the first day. Because the pain from the surgery will dissipate steadily over the first week the amount of pain medication you’re given will be reduced in tandem. Exactly what that medication is will be for your surgeon to decide based on the results of your surgery.
When Can I Bath Again?
This is one of the most common hip replacement recovery questions. While the incision is stapled shut you will need to keep it dry at all times. However, once the staples have been removed at around the 2 week mark you’ll be advised to wait one or two more days and then you’ll be able to resume taking showers or, if you prefer, baths.
How Will the Surgical Area Feel After Surgery?
In the immediate aftermath of surgery you likely won’t feel anything in the surgical area due to the anaesthesia. However once it wears off you’ll likely feel numbness in your hip for some time and you may also experience swelling in the lower leg which may be a fairly regular occurrence for several weeks.
Should I Be Active All the Time?
Being active is preferred over being sedentary but the exact level of your physical activity will be up to your surgeon and physical therapist to decide after reviewing your condition. At the very minimum you’ll be expected to fulfil all the requirements of the rehabilitation exercise program the physical therapist devised for you. Anything beyond that will depend on the specifics of you and your case.
Hip replacement recovery will require patience and dedication on your part. But by being thorough and careful and following these hip replacement recovery tips you will set yourself on the road to a brighter, healthier, happier future where you can take full advantage of the potential in your new hip.