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Total Hip Replacement
Total Hip Replacement
Whether you have just begun exploring treatment options or have already decided to undergo hip replacement surgery, this information will help you understand the benefits and limitations of total hip replacement. This article describes how a normal hip works, the causes of hip pain, what to expect from hip replacement surgery, and what exercises and activities will help restore your mobility and strength, and enable you to return to everyday activities.
If your hip has been damaged by arthritis, a fracture, or other conditions, common activities such as walking or getting in and out of a chair may be painful and difficult. Your hip may be stiff, and it may be hard to put on your shoes and socks. You may even feel uncomfortable while resting.
If medications, changes in your everyday activities, and the use of walking supports do not adequately help your symptoms, you may consider hip replacement surgery. Hip replacement surgery is a safe and effective procedure that can relieve your pain, increase motion, and help you get back to enjoying normal, everyday activities.
The hip is one of the body’s largest joints. It is a ball-and-socket joint. The socket is formed by the acetabulum, which is part of the large pelvis bone. The ball is the femoral head, which is the upper end of the femur (thighbone).
The bone surfaces of the ball and socket are covered with articular cartilage, a smooth tissue that cushions the ends of the bones and enables them to move easily.
A thin tissue called synovial membrane surrounds the hip joint. In a healthy hip, this membrane makes a small amount of fluid that lubricates the cartilage and eliminates almost all friction during hip movement.
Bands of tissue called ligaments (the hip capsule) connect the ball to the socket and provide stability to the joint.
Common Causes of Hip Pain
The most common cause of chronic hip pain and disability is arthritis. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and traumatic arthritis are the most common forms of this disease.
- Osteoarthritis. This is an age-related “wear and tear” type of arthritis. It usually occurs in people 50 years of age and older and often in individuals with a family history of arthritis. The cartilage cushioning the bones of the hip wears away. The bones then rub against each other, causing hip pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis may also be caused or accelerated by subtle irregularities in how the hip developed in childhood.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease in which the synovial membrane becomes inflamed and thickened. This chronic inflammation can damage the cartilage, leading to pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of a group of disorders termed “inflammatory arthritis.”
- Post-traumatic arthritis. This can follow a serious hip injury or fracture. The cartilage may become damaged and lead to hip pain and stiffness over time.
In a total hip replacement (also called total hip arthroplasty), the damaged bone and cartilage is removed and replaced with prosthetic components.
- The damaged femoral head is removed and replaced with a metal stem that is placed into the hollow center of the femur. The femoral stem may be either cemented or “press fit” into the bone.
- A metal or ceramic ball is placed on the upper part of the stem. This ball replaces the damaged femoral head that was removed.
- The damaged cartilage surface of the socket (acetabulum) is removed and replaced with a metal socket. Screws or cement are sometimes used to hold the socket in place.
- A plastic or ceramic spacer is inserted between the new ball and the socket to allow for a smooth gliding surface.
Is Hip Replacement Surgery for You?
The decision to have hip replacement surgery should be a cooperative one made by you, your family, your primary care doctor, and your orthopaedic surgeon. The process of making this decision typically begins with a referral by your doctor to an orthopaedic surgeon for an initial evaluation.
Candidates for Surgery
There are no absolute age or weight restrictions for total hip replacements.
Recommendations for surgery are based on a patient’s pain and disability, not age. Most patients who undergo total hip replacement are age 50 to 80, but orthopaedic surgeons evaluate patients individually. Total hip replacements have been performed successfully at all ages, from the young teenager with juvenile arthritis to the elderly patient with degenerative arthritis.
When Surgery Is Recommended
There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend hip replacement surgery. People who benefit from hip replacement surgery often have:
- Hip pain that limits everyday activities, such as walking or bending
- Hip pain that continues while resting, either day or night
- Stiffness in a hip that limits the ability to move or lift the leg
- Inadequate pain relief from anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, or walking supports
Deciding to Have Hip Replacement Surgery
Talk With Your Doctor
Your orthopaedic surgeon will review the results of your evaluation with you and discuss whether hip replacement surgery is the best method to relieve your pain and improve your mobility. Other treatment options — such as medications, physical therapy, or other types of surgery — also may be considered.
In addition, your orthopaedic surgeon will explain the potential risks and complications of hip replacement surgery, including those related to the surgery itself and those that can occur over time after your surgery.
Never hesitate to ask your doctor questions when you do not understand. The more you know, the better you will be able to manage the changes that hip replacement surgery will make in your life.
An important factor in deciding whether to have hip replacement surgery is understanding what the procedure can and cannot do. Most people who undergo hip replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of hip pain and a significant improvement in their ability to perform the common activities of daily living.
With normal use and activity, the material between the head and the socket of every hip replacement implant begins to wear. Excessive activity or being overweight may speed up this normal wear and cause the hip replacement to loosen and become painful. Therefore, most surgeons advise against high-impact activities such as running, jogging, jumping, or other high-impact sports.
Realistic activities following total hip replacement include unlimited walking, swimming, golf, driving, hiking, biking, dancing, and other low-impact sports.
With appropriate activity modification, hip replacements can last for many years.
Alternatives to Surgery
Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory tablets such as Ibuprofen can help control the pain of arthritis. Supplements to your diet, such as fish oil or glucosamine, may also help relieve your symptoms. You should check with your doctor before you take any supplements.
Using a walking stick on the opposite side to the affected hip can make walking easier, as can a small shoe-raise on the affected side. Regular moderate exercise can help to reduce the stiffness in your hip.
A steroid injection into your hip joint can sometime reduce pain and stiffness for several months. You may get side effects if you have injections too often.
All these measures become less effective if your arthritis gets worse and this is when your surgeon may recommend proceeding with a hip replacement.
Preparing for Surgery
If you decide to have hip replacement surgery, your orthopaedic surgeon may ask you to have a complete physical examination by your primary care doctor before your surgical procedure. This is needed to make sure you are healthy enough to have the surgery and complete the recovery process. Many patients with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, may also be evaluated by a specialist, such a cardiologist, before the surgery.
Several tests, such as blood and urine samples, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and chest x-ray, may be needed to help plan your surgery.
Preparing Your Skin
Your skin should not have any infections or irritations before surgery. If either is present, contact your orthopaedic surgeon for treatment to improve your skin before surgery.
Tell your orthopaedic surgeon about the medications you are taking. He or she or your primary care doctor will advise you which medications you should stop taking and which you can continue to take before surgery.
If you are overweight, your doctor may ask you to lose some weight before surgery to minimize the stress on your new hip and possibly decrease the risks of surgery.
Although infections after hip replacement are not common, an infection can occur if bacteria enter your bloodstream. Because bacteria can enter the bloodstream during dental procedures, major dental procedures (such as tooth extractions and periodontal work) should be completed before your hip replacement surgery. Routine cleaning of your teeth should be delayed for several weeks after surgery.
An appointment will be made for you at the preoperative clinic. At this clinic you will be seen by an anaesthetist and members of the rehabilitation team.
Your Stay in the Hospital
After the operation you will be transferred to the recovery area and then to the ward. You will usually have an x-ray to check the position of your hip replacement.
After surgery, you will feel some pain, but your surgeon and nurses will provide medication to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Pain management is an important part of your recovery. Movement will begin soon after surgery, and when you feel less pain, you can start moving sooner and get your strength back more quickly. Talk with your surgeon if postoperative pain becomes a problem.
Walking and light activity are important to your recovery and will begin the day of or the day after your surgery. Most patients who undergo total hip replacement begin standing and walking with the help of a walking support and a physical therapist the day after surgery. The physical therapist will teach you specific exercises to strengthen your hip and restore movement for walking and other normal daily activities.
You may have stitches or staples running along your wound or a suture beneath your skin. The stitches or staples will be removed approximately 2 weeks after surgery. Avoid getting the wound wet until it has thoroughly sealed and dried. You may continue to bandage the wound to prevent irritation from clothing or support stockings.
Exercise is a critical component of home care, particularly during the first few weeks after surgery. You should be able to resume most normal light activities of daily living within 3 to 6 weeks following surgery. Some discomfort with activity and at night is common for several weeks.
Your activity program should include:
- A graduated walking program to slowly increase your mobility, initially in your home and later outside
- Resuming other normal household activities, such as sitting, standing, and climbing stairs
- Specific exercises several times a day to restore movement and strengthen your hip. You probably will be able to perform the exercises without help, but you may have a physical therapist help you at home or in a therapy center the first few weeks after surgery
Possible Complications of Surgery
The complication rate following hip replacement surgery is low. Serious complications, such as joint infection, occur in less than 2% of patients. Major medical complications, such as heart attack or stroke, occur even less frequently. However, chronic illnesses may increase the potential for complications. Although uncommon, when these complications occur they can prolong or limit full recovery.
Infection may occur superficially in the wound or deep around the prosthesis. It may happen while in the hospital or after you go home. It may even occur years later.
Minor infections of the wound are generally treated with antibiotics. Major or deep infections may require more surgery and removal of the prosthesis. Any infection in your body can spread to your joint replacement.
Blood clots in the leg veins or pelvis are the most common complication of hip replacement surgery. These clots can be life-threatening if they break free and travel to your lungs. Your orthopaedic surgeon will outline a prevention program which may include blood thinning medications, support hose, inflatable leg coverings, ankle pump exercises, and early mobilization.
Sometimes after a hip replacement, one leg may feel longer or shorter than the other. Your orthopaedic surgeon will make every effort to make your leg lengths even, but may lengthen or shorten your leg slightly in order to maximize the stability and biomechanics of the hip. Some patients may feel more comfortable with a shoe lift after surgery.
This occurs when the ball comes out of the socket. The risk for dislocation is greatest in the first few months after surgery while the tissues are healing. Dislocation is uncommon. If the ball does come out of the socket, a closed reduction usually can put it back into place without the need for more surgery. In situations in which the hip continues to dislocate, further surgery may be necessary.
Loosening and Implant Wear
Over years, the hip prosthesis may wear out or loosen. This is most often due to everyday activity. It can also result from a biologic thinning of the bone called osteolysis. If loosening is painful, a second surgery called a revision may be necessary. Approximately 17 out of 20 hip replacements will last fifteen years.
Nerve and blood vessel injury, bleeding, fracture, and stiffness can occur. In a small number of patients, some pain can continue or new pain can occur after surgery.
Protecting Your Hip Replacement
There are many things you can do to protect your hip replacement and extend the life of your hip implant.
- Participate in a regular light exercise program to maintain proper strength and mobility of your new hip.
- Take special precautions to avoid falls and injuries. If you break a bone in your leg, you may require more surgery.
- Make sure your dentist knows that you have a hip replacement. You will need to take antibiotics before any dental procedure.
- See your orthopaedic surgeon periodically for routine follow-up examinations and x-rays, even if your hip replacement seems to be doing fine.
This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.