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What to Expect After a Hip Replacement

nurse in orange scrubs

Have You Decided it is Time for Hip Replacement Surgery?

That aching, painful and stiff hip has reduced your quality of life. You can’t enjoy the activities you used to love, like a good golf game, a walk around the block or even playing with the grandkids, without constant pain.

Over 300,000 people have hip replacement surgery each year in the United States. Before you decide to join this group, it is important to know what to expect following surgery. What will you experience after your hip replacement? When will you feel back to normal? What can you do to speed your recovery?

Pain After a Hip Replacement

First things first, hip replacement surgery will hurt. All surgery does! Be prepared that you will experience a significant amount of discomfort in the first three days following surgery. Your mobility will be limited, and you will need to depend on others to help you with your regular activities of daily living. Even simple things like going to the bathroom will require assistance.

On the first day, a significant amount of surgical pain medication will be in your system. You may feel groggy but not as uncomfortable. On the second day, you will likely be able to get out of bed and start moving with assistance. Although you had surgery on the largest joint in your body, you will be walking on it in only one or two days.

Be ready for the third day after surgery. You will probably feel like you got hit by a truck. After surgery, your body sends a large number of inflammatory cells to the injured area in order to help with the healing process. These levels will be at the highest on day three. Inflammation means swelling and swelling means pain. Talk to your doctor their recommendations for using ice and taking an anti-inflammatory medication starting on the day of surgery. But remember, typically, once you get through day three the swelling and pain will get better.

Walking After Hip Replacement Surgery

Most likely, you will be up and walking the day after your surgery. Take it slow and don’t push yourself beyond what you can handle. Getting up and active following surgery is vital to speeding up your recovery after a hip replacement. Try to exercise for 20-30 minutes at a time. The first day that might just mean getting out of bed and to the hallway. Don’t feel discouraged by this!

Moving around will not only speed up your recovery but will also increase the circulation to your legs and feet which will reduce your chance of getting a blood clot. Blood clots are a serious risk following all types of surgery but can be prevented by early movement and exercise.

Getting out of bed will also help to maintain and increase your muscle strength while preventing your new hip from getting stiff. You’ll want to take full advantage of that new level of hip movement. Don’t forget that getting out of bed and being able to walk with a walker or cane is one of the goals you need to accomplish before going home from the hospital.

woman learning to walk again after hip replacement

Your Hip Replacement Recovery Checklist

Typically, after two to four days you will be discharged from the hospital to either your home or to a rehabilitation facility. Here are some goals to use as a checklist when transitioning back to your home. Make sure that:

  • You can get out of bed by yourself.
  • Your pain is adequately under control. This doesn’t mean you’re pain-free but it should be manageable.
  • You can eat, drink, sleep and go to the bathroom.
  • You can walk with a cane, walker or crutches.
  • You’re ready to do home exercises on your own.
  • You know what you need to do to protect your new hip from an injury.

Before you go home, you will need to have someone available to help you at home. This can be a friend, family member or a caregiver. At home, you will want to make sure that your furniture is set up so that you can get around your house easily.

Read: 6 Insider Tips to Help You Plan for a Hospital Stay

What Will Hip Replacement Recovery be Like?

It’s normal to have questions about what the healing process will look like after surgery. So we’ve gathered the answer to common questions.

When Can I Shower?

You will not be showering until you get the go-ahead from your surgeon because you need to keep the incision dry. But a sponge bath will feel heavenly when you get home! The first two weeks you will be at your highest risk of infection, so report any signs of redness, drainage or fever. Your surgical staples will usually come out on day 10-14 and then you can bathe or shower again.

When Can I Start Walking?

After your surgical staples are removed, you’ll be able to start to work on walking without a walker or cane. Don’t forget to move around as much as you can while at home. Make sure you do the physical therapy exercises you have set up, go for light walks and remember to rotate your ankles, bend your knees and practice leg raises while sitting up or lying down.

When Can I Drive?

You can usually start driving within three to six weeks following hip replacement surgery. However, you will need to make sure that you are no longer taking any pain medication that affects your response time or makes you groggy. Initially, you will likely find that an automatic transmission is easier to drive. Also, make sure you can tip your foot up and down without pain prior to driving. This can depend on which hip is operated on. If you had surgery on the side you use to drive, it may take longer to get behind the wheel.

When Can I Have Sex?

Yes, it is a question every patient has but often hesitates to ask. This can be especially awkward if it is your parent that has had a hip replacement and you are accompanying them to a doctor’s appointment. Check with your doctor to be sure, but it is usually safe to resume sexual activity six weeks to two months following a hip replacement. Remember, as with all activities, to listen to your body! Do not attempt to do more than you feel capable of and to stop or slow down if you notice increased pain.

Dr. Mehran, an orthopedic surgeon, shares this rule of thumb, “If you are still needing to use a walker, you are probably not ready for sex yet.” Still using a walker usually means that you have not yet regained enough strength and balance.

What Should I Eat After Hip Replacement Surgery?

The healthier you eat, the better you heal! The food that you put into your body will provide you with the energy and nutrition needed to fight off infections, accelerate healing, increase your strength and energy and build up your nutrition stores. Speed up the recovery process by eating healing foods like berries and dark leafy greens.

double hip replacement xray

6 Tips for a Successful Hip Replacement Recovery

Along with following your surgeon’s discharge plan for exercise and physical therapy, it’s important to make a few changes to your home.

“Preparing your home with the same care shown to your physical recovery will set you up for success,” says Barbara Bergin, M.D. of Texas Orthopedics, Sports and Rehabilitation Associates. She suggests starting with the following six steps.

1. Remove Tripping Hazards

Slips and falls are common reasons for hip replacement surgeries in the first place. To avoid hospital readmission with an injury to your other hip, or damaging the replacement, Bergin suggests removing all throw rugs, floor mats, etc. from your home.

“You’ll be shuffling your feet for a while,” says Bergin. As a result, you can trip on throw rugs, including those you use in the bathroom or kitchen. If you prefer to keep the rug where it is, Bergen suggests “fastening them using carpet tape to keep the edges down.” However, she says that the best bet is removing the tripping hazard to eliminate any concerns about a fall.

Read: Fall Prevention – Taking Care of Yourself and Your Home

2. Upgrade the Bathroom

Installing a handicap or comfort height toilet is a better option than a temporary elevated toilets apparatus, says Bergen. “Not only do the temporary appliances get dirty easily, but it’s also recommended to use a comfort height toilet permanently after a total joint replacement.” Doing so, she says, will improve the quality of your life, along with that new joint.

You should also use a shower chair. Make sure that you have a sturdy chair that is higher than average and firm. You will find this easier to get up from. To get in and out of the shower easily, you also might want to consider having a grab bar installed in the bathroom.

3. Raise ‘em up

“Elevating the legs helps get that swelling down,” Bergin says. Swelling can limit your ability to get your life back to normal. She suggests, “Using big pillows or wedges to elevate your legs if recommended.” This includes having a pillow to place in between your legs while sleeping. “A nice, fat body pillow provides comfort and helps promote restful sleep.”

4. Gather the Right Tools

Bergin says over time, you may easily perform many daily activities once again. But in the first days and weeks at home, some of life’s little tasks like getting dressed or feeling steady while retrieving something from a cabinet might be challenging. She encourages people to have a few handy gadgets to make these tasks as stress-free—and safe—as possible.

“Sock donners and handy grabbers that extend your reach are absolute musts,” she says. Other helping hands include leg lifters, bendable bath sponges and a long-handled shoe horn. Many companies sell these items together as a “hip kit” package.

5. Raise Your Seat

If you can afford it, Bergen suggests asking your doctor for a prescription for a lift chair. She says, “Your knees, hips and arms will appreciate it, and that your other bad hip will really appreciate it!” Although insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the chair, having a prescription can avoid the need to pay sales tax in some areas.

6. Borrow, Don’t Buy

Many of the items you’ll need to speed down the road to recovery post hip replacement will only be required for a few weeks or so. Instead of paying the full price out-of-pocket (medical equipment is frequently not covered by many insurance plans) or even your deductible’s portion of these items, check in your area for free or low-cost community resources. These can alleviate the sting of having to outfit your home with several new tools and medical equipment.

“Family members and/or patients may borrow this equipment for little or no cost from community medical equipment lending programs, also known as medical equipment reuse programs or loan closets,” says Janice Selden, Director of Great Lakes Loan Closets.

These organizations accept medical equipment from community members who no longer need it. “They clean the equipment, check to make sure it is safe, and lend it back out to members of the community who need it. Typical equipment includes wheelchairs, walkers, shower aids, and dressing aids,” explains Selden.

Organizations like these usually provide an online directory of locations that provide these services throughout the country and can be very helpful for patients.

hospital hallway

Do’s and Don’ts After a Hip Replacement

The dos and don’ts might be different depending on what type of surgical technique your doctor used. Your doctor and physical therapist can give you a specific list to remember. These precautions are pretty standard to prevent your new hip from dislocating and to help with a quick and thorough recovery.

Do

  • Keep your operated leg facing forward.
  • Make sure your operated leg is in front of you as you sit or stand.
  • Use chairs that are high enough that your knee is lower than your hip when bent.
  • Use ice to reduce swelling.
  • Use heat before exercising to warm up the muscles for 15-20 minutes. This will help you to have better movement.
  • Reduce the amount of exercise you do if you are in pain but continue to stay active and resume your exercises as soon as possible.
  • Ask your doctor about safe sleep positions.
  • Limit the amount of weight you carry.

Don’t

  • Cross your legs for six to eight weeks.
  • Allow your knees to sit higher than your hips.
  • Lean forward while sitting, especially to pick something up off the floor.
  • Turn your foot in or out when you bend down.
  • Bend at the waist beyond 90 degrees.
  • Twist your hips.

How Long Until You Feel Good Again After a Hip Replacement

It will take time before you are out dancing again! Hip replacement is an excellent option to increase your health and quality of life. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons report that 95% of patients who undergo a hip replacement stated the procedure was successful. They reported relief from hip pain and were able to be more active and connected with their loved ones following the surgery.

These results are encouraging but it is not an overnight cure. You can expect it to take 10-12 weeks before you are able to return to all your favorite activities. At some point, you are going to feel like your recovery is taking too long. It’s important to remind yourself that feeling frustrated and limitations to physical ability are a normal part of the healing process.

Take a break and relax from pushing yourself. Do something you can enjoy. Get help if you need it, think about how far you have already come, then get back up, keep on moving and eating healthy. 10-12 weeks will feel like a long time, but once you are enjoying a pain-free stroll or game of golf, that time will be just a memory.

Resources
Great Lakes Loan Closets
Physical therapy after hip replacement: Can rehab happen at home?
Patients´ Experiences of Pain Following Day Surgery – At 48 Hours, Seven Days and Three Months
Sexual Function before and after Total Hip Replacement: Narrative Review
SEX AFTER A JOINT REPLACEMENT: THE DEFINITIVE HOW-TO GUIDE.
How successful is hip replacement surgery?

About The Author

Crystal Jo is a Registered Nurse who is passionate about helping older adults live happy, healthy lives at home. As a freelance writer, she enjoys educating and inspiring seniors, and those who love them, to choose a healthy life.

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