Hip Replacement Recovery
Full hip replacement recovery can take between six and 12 months. Most patients walk with help the same day as surgery or the next day. They usually resume routine activities between 10 and 12 weeks after surgery. Since hip replacement recovery time varies from person to person, older patients may take longer to recover.
What to Expect During Recovery from Hip Replacement Surgery
Most people will fully recover from hip replacement surgery within a few months to a year, but recovery times vary for each patient. Expect about one to four days of bed rest immediately after surgery, but physical rehabilitation usually starts the same day as your procedure.
The process is slow and steady, barring complications, and each week should bring less pain, better balance and increased mobility. A 2022 study reported that, following a hip replacement, 46.7% of participants experienced a clinically significant improvement, while 15.5% experienced worsened outcomes.
DAY OF SURGERY
You will check into the hospital several hours before surgery. The operation will take two to three hours, and you’ll spend about two more hours in a recovery room as the anesthesia wears off. Expect a liquid diet for the rest of the day. You will also have various intravenous medications to prevent blood clots and infections and to ward off pain.
1 TO 2 DAYS FOLLOWING SURGERY
Most patients will need help getting out of bed but should be able to move around with a walker or crutches. Take it slow but try to keep moving for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. This will keep your muscles strong and promote circulation to prevent blood clots.
Physical therapists will show you motions that cause the least amount of pain, but you will be limited in your overall movements for several more weeks. You will likely return to a normal diet the day after surgery and oral pain medications will replace your IV.
3 TO 4 DAYS FOLLOWING SURGERY
By day three you may be able to walk to the bathroom without help. You will still feel pain, but it should not overwhelm you. Most people can leave the hospital by day three or four if they have had no complications.
If you are headed home, you will need someone to drive you and someone to stay with you for several days to a few weeks. Some patients will stay at a rehabilitation center for some time before going home.
4 TO 10 DAYS FOLLOWING SURGERY
This time is critical for preventing infection. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking care of the incision. Let them know immediately if you have any signs of infection such as redness, fever or oozing from the incision.
Keep your incision dry. You won’t be allowed to shower or bathe until the doctor removes your surgical staples. Regular sponge baths will help keep the incision clean.
Moving about as much as possible and sticking with your physical therapy exercises will prevent stiffness, improve circulation and speed your recovery. If you spend time at a rehabilitation center, physical therapists and nurses will watch for any signs of complications. They will also assist with exercises.
10 TO 14 DAYS FOLLOWING SURGERY
The doctor will remove your surgery staples at this time. Once that happens, you’ll be able to take showers or baths and walk without a cane or walker.
Depending on your recovery and your insurance coverage, if you are at a rehabilitation center you will likely be able to return home.
3 TO 6 WEEKS FOLLOWING SURGERY
Light activities will resume and you should not need crutches or a walker at this point. Your doctor may also clear you to drive again, as long as you are not taking any pain medication. You should be able to resume sexual activity about six weeks following surgery.
10 WEEKS TO 1 YEAR FOLLOWING SURGERY
Many people return to normal activities within 10 to 12 weeks after surgery, but full recovery can take six to 12 months. Pain usually goes away during this time, but some people feel some pain beyond the first year.
Most hip replacements last 20 years, but a fraction of implants fail sooner. Watch for signs of loosening, instability, infection or additional pain. These could be indications that the implant is failing or wearing out and you may need hip revision surgery.
“Ideally, we’re looking to get patients back to work after a joint replacement within a matter of weeks to a couple of months,” Dr. H. John Cooper, a board certified orthopedic surgeon, told Drugwatch.
The fastest way to recover from hip replacement surgery is to follow your surgeon’s instructions, watch for signs of problems, be diligent with your physical and occupational therapy and maintain a healthy diet.
Recovery Immediately After Surgery
Patients must spend a few days after surgery in the hospital. During this time, they will adjust to their new hip and learn exercises to help with their recovery.
Some health care providers suggest putting a pillow or other device between the legs of patients to protect the hip on the first day after surgery. They also provide pain relievers, such as opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to relieve immediate pain after surgery.
To prevent pneumonia, doctors may ask patients to use a spirometer, a device that helps you take deep breaths and monitors your breathing. Basic physical therapy, such as walking with a walker, usually begins within one day of surgery. Patients also learn strengthening exercises before they’re discharged from the hospital so they can regain their strength and mobility at a rehabilitation center or at home.
Plan Ahead for Recovery
There are several stages to recovering from hip replacement surgery. Among them is planning for the procedure and learning what you can — and can’t — do for several days and weeks after surgery. The average length of stay in the hospital is less than two days, so planning for day three and beyond is important.
Barring complications, your hospital stay will be short. You should know whether you will go directly home or if you will go to a physical rehabilitation facility. At rehab, you’ll have plenty of qualified help 24 hours a day.
If you know you’ll be going home directly from the hospital, you’ll need help when you get there — and you will want your home to be prepped for your limited mobility.
Find loved ones or friends who can help or hire a home health aide to assist you until you have more mobility. You will need someone to prep and serve food because you won’t be able to stand for long periods of time when you first get home. You should also reorganize and refit your home to make your recuperation easier.
- Attach safety bars or handrails in the shower.
- Put a chair in the shower.
- Raise the toilet to at least the ADA-required height.
- Ensure all stairs have sturdy handrails.
- Get firm pillows to sit on so that your hips are above your knees.
- Buy a device to help reach faraway objects.
- Get tools such as long-handled shoehorns to avoid bending.
- Create clear pathways through the house.
- Remove throw rugs and repair loose carpet.
You won’t be allowed to drive right away, but you will need dependable transportation to and from physical therapy and follow-up visits with your doctor.
Finally, if you live alone or if you’re the one who always does the grocery shopping, have a plan to have your groceries delivered or picked up. Most grocery stores have online shopping and delivery services. Set up your accounts prior to your hip surgery.
Recuperating at Home
After leaving the hospital, patients can begin performing light activity in the home to increase mobility. Most patients receive a walking program that gradually increases daily activity and a physical therapy routine composed of simple exercises.
People who have hip surgery may have a weak appetite, but they should eat a balanced diet to improve tissue recovery. They should also take care of the incision point until stitches are removed.
Home is where most of the recovery time is spent. There are several steps patients can take to avoid common complications during this time. It is important to avoid falls and other injuries to the hip, so patients should use canes, crutches or walkers when necessary. They should also avoid stairs and other steep inclines during the first months after surgery.
To avoid infection, patients should talk to their doctor about taking antibiotics before dental operations. They should also take medications as prescribed to avoid blood clots. Special attention should be paid to sitting, sleeping and bending to avoid dislocating the hip.
Complications to Watch for Following Surgery
Hip replacement surgery is one of the most widely performed and successful joint operations in the United States, but every surgery has the potential for complications. The most serious complications to watch for are chest pain and shortness of breath. These could be signs of a pulmonary embolism, which needs immediate treatment. Call 911 right away.
A 2020 study published in the journal Geriatric Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation found that of the 7,730 patients studied, 324 experienced a major complication following hip replacement surgery, with 33 deaths. Nearly 2,000 patients had minor complications and 376 had to be readmitted to the hospital.
Most post-surgery problems are not emergencies but will require your doctor’s help to correct.
- Bad smell, bleeding or discharge from the incision.
- Chills or shaking.
- Fever of 100.4 F or higher.
- Hip pain worsens.
- Pain, swelling, tenderness or redness in your calf — a possible sign of blood clots.
- Swelling or redness around the incision worsens.
Absent an infection, lingering pain could be a sign of an underlying bone fracture, a dislocation or a blood clot. Another complication that could arise is a discrepancy in the length of your legs.
Some complications happen during surgery or immediately after, such as myocardial infarction, thromboembolism, cement-related hypotension and a reaction to the implant’s metal materials. Heart issues are common simply because of the older age group of most people who need hip replacement.
Hip replacement complications are rare, about 1% of cases, according to orthopedic surgeon Cooper. But they can delay recovery time.
“It can be doubled, it can be tripled, it can be a couple of years in extreme cases,” he said.
Pain After Hip Surgery
Most of the pain from hip surgery lasts several days to a week, although each case is different. Some people experience some degree of pain for weeks after the operation, but your pain should not grow in intensity.
Lingering pain can stem from problems with the implant, changes to the hip or thigh bones, or injuries to nerves or soft tissue around where the hip was repaired. Pain that lasts longer than two or three weeks could be a sign of a serious complication. Let your surgeon know about your continued discomfort.
If pain returns or worsens in the weeks and months following surgery, it can be a sign of serious complications and you should let your doctor know. In extremely rare cases, chronic pain can only be treated with revision surgery to replace the implant.
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