People who have had a hip replacement must take precautions to protect their new hips. Below are tips and safeguard measures that can help increase comfort and decrease the risk of dislocation and other injuries.
Use a Walker or Cane
A walker or cane helps ensure that a person does not fall and dislocate or damage the new hip. Walkers and canes also signal to strangers to be more cautious. Strangers in public areas are generally less likely to bump, jostle, or startle a person using a cane or walker.
Most patients are able to decrease dependence on their canes and walkers over time.
Treat the Hip Pain
It is important that hip replacement patients get adequate pain relief. Uncontrolled pain can make it difficult to participate in rehabilitation exercises and can even lead to chronic pain.
Some patients do not want to take pain medications because they worry about potential side effects or fear addiction. These patients can talk to their doctors, who can address concerns and come up with a pain management plan that minimizes side effects and risks.
Read more about Managing the Pain of Joint Replacement.
In the early weeks following hip replacement surgery, many people are tired and prone to falls. People can maximize rest time and reduce the chance of falls by planning ahead. For example:
- Plan the day to minimize the number of trips up and down stairs or in and out of a car.
- Put essential items like the TV remote control, phone, and tissues where they can be easily accessed. Some people attach small bags or baskets to the front of their walkers to ensure light necessities are always with them.
Read more about how to prepare the home for recovery from hip replacement surgery.
Make Goals with a Physical Therapist
A physical therapist can help a patient achieve certain rehabilitation goals. For example, if the patient’s home has lots of stairs, the physical therapist may prioritize preparing the patient for going up and down stairs. If a patient wants to swim freestyle, the physical therapist will teach exercises to prepare the hip for flutter kicking.
Regardless of individual goals, physical therapy is essential to hip replacement rehabilitation. Patients who attend their physical therapy appointments and do their prescribed exercises tend to recover more quickly and have better outcomes than those who do not.
Obey Movement Restrictions
Hip replacement patients are given a long list of things not to do—do not bend the hips or knees further than 90 degrees, do not cross the legs, do not lift the leg to put on socks, and much more. These movement restrictions protect the new hip from dislocation.
Between 3% and 4% of hip replacement patients have at least one episode of hip dislocation, making it the single most common complication to hip replacement surgery.1 Hip dislocation can be quite painful and a potentially serious complication that requires a second surgery.
Be Patient, and Keep Trying
After hip replacement surgery many patients are tempted to do too much at once, risking injury or dislocation. Alternatively, other people delay getting back into a regular routine longer than necessary. Each patient must work with a doctor and physical therapist to find the right balance between activity and rest. That balance will change over time—for as long as a year—as hip function improves and stabilizes.
Do Not Forget About Long-Term Care
People are advised to:
- Keep up with their physical therapy exercises to maintain strong hip muscles, which will support the artificial joint.
- Try to avoid infections. Infectious bacteria enter the body though a cut or wound, major dental procedure (e.g. root canal), or other surgical procedures and eventually reach the artificial hip. An infected artificial hip may require an operation.
- Follow up with the surgeon regularly. Experts recommend visiting with an orthopedist every 1 to 5 years to check on the new hip. Some physicians may even order X-rays to monitor changes in the new hip.
These appointments can help detect problems with the artificial hip before the patient notices symptoms.
Long-term care can help avoid problems or correct problems early, when they pose fewer risks and are easier to treat.