If your hip hurts or feels stiff when walking, sitting down, or getting up, — and especially if your hip has arthritis, a fracture, or other degeneration — make sure to consult an orthopedic doctor to evaluate it.
After testing activity modification and a cane or a walker, total hip replacement surgery may be a good option. That means replacing your ailing hip joint with an artificial one, which will let you get back to enjoying your life by easing your pain and expanding your range of motion back closer to normal.
Truly, hip replacement surgery is one of the biggest advances in surgery in the last 100 years. From about 1960 onwards, surgical techniques for joint replacement and the accompanying technology have transformed what’s possible when living with a total hip replacement. There are now more than 193,000 total hip replacements performed each year in the United States.
As one of your body’s biggest weight-bearing joints, your hip consists of two main parts:
- a ball (femoral head) at the top of your thighbone (femur)
- a rounded socket (acetabulum) in your pelvis, which the ball fits into
Tissue bands called ligaments secure the ball to the socket to stabilize the joint.
To avoid friction, both the ball’s and socket’s bone surfaces have a smooth and pliable (yet durable) cover called articular cartilage to cushion them.
In addition, a smooth layer of thin tissue called the synovial membrane covers the hip joint’s other surfaces. When your hip is healthy, this membrane produces fluid to lubricate and mostly prevent friction in your hip joint.
But once there’s enough wear for the bones to start rubbing, even shifting in your chair can hurt.
Common Causes of Hip Pain and Loss of Hip Mobility
Arthritis is unquestionably the most common cause of chronic hip pain and eventual disability. But there are three distinct types:
- Osteoarthritis causes the articular cartilage cushioning your bones to wear down, which causes the bones to then rub together with any movement. This type of arthritis is usually found in people over 50 and in younger people with arthritis in their family histories.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the synovial membrane produces too much fluid, which causes flares up inflammation and damages the articular cartilage, again leading to pain and stiffness.
- Traumatic arthritis comes from some kind of sudden and serious hip injury. For example, a hip fracture can cause a condition known as osteonecrosis, yet again damaging the articular cartilage to cause hip pain and stiffness.
Is Total Hip Replacement Surgery for You?
While nobody but you can decide if hip replacement surgery is your best choice, your orthopedic surgeon, your primary care doctor, and your family can all help you.
Orthopedic surgeons make the judgment for hip surgery specifically based on your case, accounting for your pain severity, disability, and overall health.
You’ll usually be admitted to the hospital on your surgery day. You’ll meet with an anesthesia team member to decide on which type of anesthesia would be best. For hip replacement surgery, general anesthesia (which puts you to sleep before the procedure starts and uses a breathing machine) is the most common, but spinal anesthesia (which lets you breath on your own and only anesthetizes you from the waist down) is another option.
Complications from hip replacement surgery are uncommon. Infection happens in less than 2% of patients, while more major issues like heart attack or stroke are even less common. Blood clots in the veins or pelvis are the most common complication, so your orthopedic surgeon may prescribe any of various prevention measures (blood thinners, ankle pump exercises, inflatable leg coverings, etc.)
How Your New Hip Is Different
Numbness around your surgical incision, and also stiffness, are normal after surgery. The good news is these feelings usually fade with time. Most patients also consider them minor issues compared to the pain they felt before surgery.
Remember that your new hip may activate metal detectors, so tell security agents about your hip replacement if the alarm sounds. Also ask your orthopedic surgeon for a card to confirm that you’ve got an artificial hip.
After hip surgery, make sure you also:
- Regularly exercise to maintain your strength and mobility. Just don’t overdo your exercise.
- Do your absolute best to avoid falls and injuries. You may require more surgery.
- Tell your dentist about your hip replacement, since you’ll need antibiotics before any dental procedure from now on.
- Come visit your friendly orthopedic surgeon once a year for a routine follow-up exam, including x-rays (radiographs), even if your hip replacement seems fine.