While hip replacement surgery is increasingly common, each person’s recovery is different. Recoveries vary depending on what muscles and other soft tissues were cut during surgery, the type of prosthetic hip you have, and other factors, such as whether or not you have support at home.
No matter what your health circumstances are, your medical care team will provide post-surgical instructions to fit your needs. These post-surgical instructions will help guide your pain control, physical therapy, and return to normal daily activities, including driving.
Controlling hip pain with medications
Your doctor will prescribe pain medications for you to use. Keep in mind:
- The surgical anesthesia wears off gradually, and you may experience more pain after you leave the hospital or ambulatory surgical center (ASC). Opioids or other prescription pain medications may be necessary during this period.
- Over time, you will find that you need your prescription pain medication less frequently and/or at lower doses.
- Gradually, you’ll transition to only needing over-the-counter pain relievers. This may happen anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after surgery. Everyone is different.
- Most people are eventually able to stop taking over-the-counter pain relievers, too. The timeline for this transition varies.
- Do not combine prescription pain medications with other medications, including sleep aids, without permission from your doctor or pharmacist.
If you have a history of addiction and are concerned about taking an opioid, talk to your doctor.
If pain is accompanied by signs of infection, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), or nerve damage, seek medical attention. These conditions are potentially life-threatening.
Participating in physical therapy
All patients will have supervised physical therapy before they’re discharged from the hospital or surgical center. After discharge, physical therapy may take place:
- In a rehabilitation center
- At an outpatient physical therapy clinic
- At home, with a visiting physical therapist
- At home, following written instructions and illustrations provided by your surgeon or physical therapist
With rare exceptions, patients discharged home are expected to do some physical therapy on their own, unsupervised. Anticipate doing about 20 to 30 minutes’ worth of exercises several times each day.
Returning to a daily routine
If you get discharged home from the hospital or surgical center, you may need help with simple chores, such as meal prep, cleaning, and laundry. Enlist a spouse, family member, friend, or hired helper.
Thankfully, this stage usually doesn’t last long. One or two weeks after surgery you’ll probably be able to:
- Move about your home more easily.
- Walk short distances, to your mailbox, around the block, or perhaps even further.
- Prepare your own meals. One to 2 weeks after surgery you may be able to stand at the kitchen counter without a walking aid. Always follow the advice of your surgeon or physical therapist.
- Take showers. Some people are initially advised to avoid showering for a few days to protect the surgical incision. (Guidelines on when it’s okay to shower can vary depending on the type of bandage and other factors, so follow your surgeon’s instructions.)
People who are discharged to rehabilitation centers typically get sent home after a week or two.
Driving after hip replacement surgery
The time frame for returning to driving depends on several factors:
- You must be off any medications that may cause drowsiness or errors in judgment, such as opioids.
- You will need the stamina to drive and have your reflexes back to normal.
- If you have surgery on your right hip, you may be advised to wait at least one month before driving. This precaution is to make sure you have developed enough strength and coordination in your right leg to operate the car’s gas and brake pedals.
- If you have surgery on your left hip (and have a car with automatic transmission) you may be able to drive in as soon as two weeks.
Above all, it is best to listen to your body and your doctor’s advice.
To learn more about returning to work, sports, and hobbies read “When Can I…?” Answers for Hip Replacement Patients