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How Am I Doing After My Hip Replacement?

Posted on: 04/21/2011
It's no surprise that a hip replacement reduces pain, increases hip motion, and restores movement and function. After all, that's why people have the procedure done. The real question now is how long does it take to recover? More than ever, today's active seniors are asking this question long before they even get the new hip.

After surgery, the most common question patients have is: "How am I doing compared to everyone else?" With information from a new study on recovery following a total hip replacement, the physical therapist or surgeon can now answer with some ball park figures.

Of course, there is always variability among groups of seniors following any surgery. In the case of recovery following total hip replacement, it appears there are two phases. The first occurs 12 to 15 weeks after the procedure. Rapid change occurs in the first three months and then starts to slow between 15 and 20 weeks.

By the end of four months, most patients have been discharged from treatment. They are well on their way to resuming all physical activities and exercise they are interested in. More physical therapy with a supervised rehab program may still be needed if you have not experienced good improvement or the results you expected.

Thirty (30) weeks (seven and a half months) later, patients experience another leveling out as they are now able to walk again at a normal pace. Physical function involving the legs continues to improve though at a much slower pace than early on. Balance and postural stability seem to take longer to recover.

If you continue to follow the exercise program prescribed by your physical therapist, then by the end of 12 months (one full year), you should be fully recovered. Hip muscle strength, joint motion, and leg function should test within normal limits for your age. Patients who quit doing their exercises too soon often have muscle weakness and report falls two years after hip replacement.

You can use these known guidelines to establish your own goals and check your recovery against the average. Setting too high of expectations can discourage you -- especially in those early weeks of recovery. Adopt a "can do" attitude, follow your therapist's and surgeon's advice, and give yourself some time to recover.

The therapist will use several tools to measure how you are doing. A popular (valid and reliable) test of physical activity is the six minute walk test. In this test, how far you can walk (and how fast) in six-minutes is measured and compared.

For both men and women after a total hip replacement, the peak distance walked occurs around that 30-week postoperative timeframe. Women don't walk as far as men and their early recovery time is a little slower but in the end (a year later), walking ability evens out between the sexes.

Other measures may include whether or not you still need a walking aid (e.g., walking sticks or cane), your pain level, and how much medication you are still taking for pain. How well you can go up and down stairs is a functional skill of importance. Your ability to carry out daily activities may also be examined closely.

Don't be afraid to ask your team how they think you are doing as you evaluate your recovery. If it seems (to you or to them) that you have fallen behind, it may be time to reevaluate or reassess your progress and perhaps alter the rehab program. Limping, loss of balance, and falls are three clear signals that you may need additional therapy to fully recover.

Teyhen DS. Total Hip Replacement. In The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. April 2011. Vol. 41. No. 4. Pp. 240.

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*Disclaimer:*The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.

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