When it comes to hip replacements, there are a lot of myths out there. One of the largest is that replacing such a large, important joint means months of down time and inactivity. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is a shame because the propagation of this myth can lead to patient’s putting off seeking relief from intense pain.
Another resounding myth is that hip replacement patients developed problems requiring surgery due to inactivity. Many hip replacement patients led an active lifestyle, at least before the pain of arthritis setting in. And as time goes on, the age of hip replacement patients seems to be decreasing. Between 2000-2010, the number of U.S. patients aged 45-54 undergoing total hip replacement jumped by 205%. One of the possible reasons for this increase is that a change in our ideas about health and fitness has led to more joint problems in this younger age bracket.
The good news is that a hip replacement doesn’t mean the end of an active lifestyle. In fact, patients who undergo this surgery can be expected to be up and walking with the assistance of a walker or a cane within 24 hours. Complete inactivity is something patients should avoid during hip replacement recovery, as it can cause some major complications. On the other hand, too much activity could be problematic as well. So, what should patients getting ready to undergo hip replacement surgery do?
The first rule of thumb – always listen to your doctor, and in this case your physical therapist as well. Before surgery, the patient and doctor work together to create a picture of what the patient’s lifestyle looks like and what goals they have for activity after the hip replacement surgery is completed. The doctor then compiles a recovery plan that helps the patient reach their goals…as long as the patient does the work required and follows the doctor’s directions very carefully.
A physical therapist (PT) is likely to be a part of the recovery process as well. They act as a guide for the patient, aiding in exercises and monitoring progress to gauge what the patient can safely handle activity-wise. Patients hoping to return to a normal life as quickly as possible should heed the advice of the PT and not try to push too far, too fast.
Before patients even make the trip to the hospital for surgery, they should do a little pre-gaming. Time spent in the hospital following hip replacement is brief, usually less than four days, with the rest of recovery taking place at home. Knowing that there will be restrictions on movement, including bending or walking on stairs, the patient and their recovery helpers must take a good look at the environment and see what can be done to make post-surgery life easier.
Setting up a living space for the patient that is easily accessible is the first task, which may mean moving sleeping accommodations for a while. Walkways need to be maneuverable and free of area rugs or other potential trip hazards. For the bathroom, having a grab bar in the shower, a shower seat, and a raised toilet seat will help make daily functions so much easier.
The recovery team should think about smaller things as well, like making sure kitchen items used on a regular basis are within easy reach, or providing tools that will make dressing easier. Anything that reduces bending, such as a long-handled grabbing tool or shoe horn will help to prevent injury while healing.
Patients used to leading a very active lifestyle sometimes try to push their recovery activities beyond what they are capable of doing. Don’t do it. Doing too much activity too fast can lead to further hip injury, which will only mean more recovery time.
Instead, patients should take the slow and steady approach and listen to the guidance of their physical therapist. They can provide the best information on personal progress, as well as advise what exercises and activities can satisfy the need to engage in more rigorous activity.
It is also important that patients don’t go the opposite direction and stop doing exercises entirely. Daily activity is an important part of recovery, strengthening the muscles around the hip joint and getting the area ready to resume everyday tasks. Inactivity can lead to further injury and a slower recovery.
Patients who are ready to get up and moving again should consult their doctor or physical therapist before engaging in any sport-related activity. While walking, swimming, and cycling are all considered great low-impact options, it is still important to confirm enough healing has taken place to start engaging in this kind of activity.
Avoid high-impact activities such as running or sports that require a lot of jumping or sudden movements. There are some sports, such as tennis, that can be modified to be more hip-recovery friendly – instead of solo tennis, patients should opt for doubles matches. Medical professionals should also carefully monitor strength training activities…if there is a question about whether an activity is safe, ask before participating.
There is no doubt that healing from a hip replacement takes time, and can seem like a painfully slow process for those who are ready to resume a normal life. Think of hip replacement recovery as a marathon – it requires a lot of patience, practice, and care before an athlete is ready to run a full 26 miles. The same goes for recovery from this type of surgery. Returning to an active lifestyle will happen, but only if the patient takes the necessary time, care, and steps to reach the final goal.