Hip replacement recovery – how long will it take?

Hip replacement recovery – how long will it take?

So you’re looking at having a hip replacement, but are worried about how long you might be out of action for? What if I can’t move from the sofa for six months?

You’re not alone.

This, quite understandably, is one of the most common questions we get: “how long will it take me to recover?”

Here’s a summary of what you need to know…

How long will it take to recover from hip replacement surgery?

Broadly speaking, you can expect to leave hospital on crutches after a two night stay. You’ll be fully prepared with regular exercises you’ll need to do at home, which will all help to keep your recovery moving. You’ll have another physiotherapy appointment at around two weeks, where your exercises will be adjusted to more tricky exercises to further your progress.

Most patients can expect to be using crutches for around four weeks, but often turn the corner after this and start phasing this out as they progress. By the time you have a follow-up with your consultant after six weeks, you will be walking around the house unaided and will be feeling largely back to normal.

Some younger patients have even been able to play golf after six weeks. To get back to your Sunday league tennis however, around three months is a realistic timeframe for most.

When will I leave hospital?

Most patients will leave hospital after a two night stay following a hip replacement. Don’t worry though, you won’t be sent home before you meet our discharge criteria. You’ll leave hospital when you can:

  • Walk independently with elbow crutches
  • Do your exercises independently
  • Get in and out of bed by yourself
  • Walk up and down the stairs safely

It’s important to know that when you go home you will find none of the above easy. It is normal for walking around, doing your exercises and especially the stairs to be challenging, but after the first one or two weeks they will become easier.

When you’re discharged from the ward, the team will give you (on request) a standard two-week sick note. Many patients will take four to six weeks off, so you’ll need to visit your GP to get additional time signed off work. The pharmacy at Circle will give you a small amount of medication for pain relief you can take away. After a week or so, you may need to visit your GP to have any staples removed. This can be an opportunity to speak to your GP about obtaining more medication to help with the pain and getting advice on when you can go back to work too.

When you are discharged from the ward, a healthcare assistant will accompany you in the lift. You will often be in a wheelchair due to the distance to cover, and we will assist you into the car for your journey home.

Pain after hip replacement surgery

Most hip replacements are performed under a general anaesthetic, so your consultant and anaesthetist will make sure pain is controlled.

Patients usually describe an ache after the procedure, rather than pain. Most respond very well to surgery and are feeling quite comfortable after 10-12 hours.

Any aching or pain will be most noticeable over the first day or two, but it’s always kept under control by the medical team. We want to keep any discomfort to a minimum, so make sure you talk to your nurse if you feel pain increases past what you would consider to be mild.

What can impact recovery times?

Your age, social circumstances and comorbidities (any other conditions you have) can all impact recovery time following a hip replacement.

The average age for having a hip replacement is 67, but age still plays a part. Younger patients may recover quicker, but your social circumstances can also be significant.

Having support from friends and family at home, especially over the first few weeks, can really help. That said, many patients are able to manage on their own just fine.

Hip replacement exercises: “they’re not all hip exercises”

Our physio team will give you specific exercises to work on at different stages of your recovery.

These are arranged in ‘phases’, starting with phase one exercises straight after your operation and finishing at phase three later on in your rehabilitation.

You won’t just be doing hip exercises during your recovery.

For instance, ankle pumps are a great exercise to do, even in the recovery ward when you’ve just woken up from surgery. It’s instinctive to want to move your feet anyway and ankle pumps are a really valuable exercise to be doing straight away to aid your circulation.

It’s important that you feel confident to move – it’s just about being aware of particular movements.

For example, you have to be careful for six weeks after your operation that you don’t flex greater than 90 degrees. This is to reduce the risk of dislocation following surgery. The general principles are no flexing past 90 degrees, no crossing the legs and no twisting or pivoting on the foot.

Many of your exercises focus on encouraging circulation, activating muscles and moving the joint. They’re not all hip exercises either. Here’s some examples of phase one exercises (ideally they are all done whilst lying on your bed, but they can be done whilst sitting in a chair):

  • Ankle pumps: Move your ankle up and down as far as you can go. Repeat 20 times.
  • Static quads: Press the back of the knee into the bed, tightening the muscle on the front of the thigh. Hold for five seconds but do not hold your breath. Repeat 10 times.
  • Hip abduction (slide out): Slide your leg out to the side. Keep toes pointed up and your knee straight. Slide back to starting point. Repeat 10 times.

Going to the toilet after a hip replacement

Quite understandably this is a key question we get asked, so much so that for some it’s more of a worry than the procedure itself!

We want you to feel as independent as possible, as quickly as possible. Initially you’ll be on the recovery ward following surgery, which is where the team monitor your recovery as the anaesthetic wears off. You’ll then be moved back to your own private room. When you need to go to the toilet, one of the nursing team will help you to move out onto a commode where it’s safe to do so.

Regardless of age, we’ll give you a walking frame to use initially, as this is the best way to support your weight. When you’ve started your exercises and are able to move more confidently, you’ll progress to crutches.

Our en-suite hospital rooms have a toilet that is a good height for most people, but please speak to one of the nurses if you have any questions or would like a toilet raise.

When can I drive again?

It takes around four to six weeks for most patients to regain full independence. Most patients wait to get approval to drive from their consultant surgeon at their six week follow-up appointment. It’s vital you’re able to operate the car safely and to be able to do an emergency stop, so talk to a medical professional if you’re unsure.

What about follow-up appointments?

Most patients have around three follow-up appointments:

  • Two weeks – physiotherapy
  • Four weeks – physiotherapy
  • Six weeks – consultant follow-up

After you leave hospital, you’ll be able to give us a call to arrange your first physiotherapy appointment. The early goal of physiotherapy is to mobilise the joint to help give you confidence in your new hip. In particular, the hip abductors (gluteal muscles) are especially important as getting these working effectively will reduce your pain and help you start walking without a limp.

Patients are sometimes quite apprehensive to start with and worried about hurting themselves. We offer you all the preparation you’ll need before you even have your procedure, with simple guidelines and exercises so you know what to expect. Read more about preparing for your hip replacement.

Unilateral and bilateral hip replacements

The difference between the two is simply whether you’re having one hip replaced (unilateral) or both (bilateral) at the same time. About one in 10 patients have bilateral hip arthritis, but most still tend to feel pain predominantly on one side.

Hip replacements are one of the safest operations we do medically, but it’s fairly unusual for both to be done at once. It’s usually requested for social reasons (taking one spell of time off work), so you may spend a day or two more on the ward to recover from having both hips replaced.

How long will I need to have bandages?

A waterproof dressing is usually applied to the wound after surgery which can typically be removed after around 12 days. Your surgeon will advise whether you’ll need to visit a GP to have your waterproof dressing removed and if any clips or stitches need to be removed. It’s completely fine to shower with the dressing applied, but you shouldn’t have a bath in that time. You will have a shower during your hospital stay, so you will feel confident to shower at home.

How long does a hip replacement last?

Broadly speaking, you can expect your new hip to last between 15 – 20 years. The time it lasts very much depends on the bearing couple used, which are the two surfaces that interact with each other in the hip. 

The national joint registry publishes data on all the most successful bearings and materials used, publishing data on their website. The Orthopaedic Data Evaluation Panel (ODEP) looks at various implants and gives ratings for them, based on how long they’ve been around for and their success rate.

Keeping weight under control can potentially impact the longevity of your new hip. Mobility is of great importance as you get older and a hip replacement gives you that flexibility to enjoy a pain-free life.

Pain and loss of independence is what really strikes people most about hip osteoarthritis. Many patients know of someone who has had a hip replacement, so it’s always a good idea to speak to them first about how they found it.

A hip replacement is designed to transform your current life and get you back to normal. The vast majority of patients are delighted with the results and the independence they regain.

Intensive rehabilitation at Circle

If you’d like to spend longer with our expert team after your operation, we have a dedicated rehabilitation unit in our hospital in Reading. We can build a bespoke package of care around your needs, providing all the support you need following your hip replacement. This can include regular physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions. Staying as an inpatient means you’ll have round-the-clock support from the nursing team if you have any concerns, and you’ll have freshly prepared meals from our team of on-site chefs. Please ask your pre-assessment physiotherapist for more details or find out more here.

You’ll also have regular access to our state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment, including the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill and the Hydro Physio aquatic treadmill if appropriate.

Find out more about Circle Rehabilitation here. Give us a call on 0118 922 6970 or email rehab@circlehealth.co.uk if you’d like us to send you a no-obligation quote for further rehabilitation.

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