If your hip has been damaged by arthritis or injury, it can make the simplest movements painful and even cause severe discomfort while at rest. When medications, walking aids such as canes and physiotherapy don’t work sufficiently, hip replacement surgery can restore your ease of mobility and thus your quality of life.
Since it was first performed in 1960, hip replacement surgery has greatly improved in its effectiveness. In a nutshell, it is the procedure of replacing your deteriorated hip joint with an artificial joint. The following guide will clarify whether this option is recommended for you and outline what you can expect when undergoing the operation.
Is hip replacement surgery the right solution for you?
If you and your doctor decide that hip replacement surgery could be a viable option, you’ll be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for a thorough evaluation. Recommendations for surgery are based on the extent of your pain, immobility and general health. The criteria used to determine whether you should undergo the procedure are:
– Your hip pain limits everyday activities such as walking or bending.
– Stiffness in your hip limits the ability to move or lift your leg.
– The pain persists while resting, either day or night.
– Alternative treatments such as physical therapy or the use of a walking aid do not provide relief.
– There is insufficient pain reduction from anti-inflammatory drugs or glucosamine sulphate.
– You suffer harmful or disagreeable side effects from hip medications.
Preparation before surgery
Once you have made the decision with your doctor to undergo a hip replacement operation, you will first have to take certain tests to determine whether you’re healthy enough to have the surgery. These will include an EKG to measure your heart, urine tests to determine pregnancy or infection, an X-ray to check your lungs and blood tests to measure your red blood count (this affects your immunity level and thus your recovery). It’s important to fully discuss your medical history as factors such as diabetes can affect your ability to heal and anti-inflammatory medications can cause excessive bleeding so would need to be discontinued some time before the procedure. You will also have a discussion with the anaesthesiologist so they can decide which type of anaesthetic will be most suited to you, whether a general (where you’ll be completely asleep), regional or spinal approach.
The Hip Replacement Operation
You will usually be admitted to hospital on the day of the surgery, which will take a few hours to complete. Your orthopaedic surgeon will remove the damaged cartilage and bone in your hip and then replace it with metal, plastic, or ceramic joint surfaces to restore the function and alignment of your hip. All of the materials used in artificial hip joints consist of two basic components – the ball which is made of a strong metal or ceramic material and the socket which is a durable cup made of plastic, ceramic or metal. The surgeon will choose the type of prosthesis that best suits your needs. Special surgical cement may be used to fill the gap between the artificial joint and the remaining natural bone to secure them.
After your operation, you will remain in the recovery room for 1 to 2 hours while your anaesthesia wears off. Medical staff will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Then you will be taken to your hospital room, where you’ll normally stay for a few days. Pain medication will be prescribed to keep you comfortable. To protect your hip while it heals in the beginning fragile stage, a positioning splint, such as a V-shaped pillow placed between your legs, might be used. Walking and light activity will be crucial to your recovery and will generally begin as soon as the day of or the day after your operation, with the help of a walking aid and a physical therapist. The therapist will also teach you specific exercises to help strengthen your hip and restore movement for walking and other normal daily activities. In most cases, you will need to be absent from work for approximately 6 – 8 weeks.
In conclusion, hip replacement surgery can restore your mobility and therefore greatly improve your ability to enjoy life. All in all, the success of your operation will largely depend on how well you follow your orthopaedic surgeon’s instructions when it comes to home care during the first few weeks after the procedure.
Angela Cilano is a medical researcher and hip replacemen consultant.