Recovery After Hip Replacement: What to Expect
Hip replacement is oftentimes the best chance many people have to return to an active life without hip pain. Even if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive hip replacement procedure, it is still a major surgical operation. The decision to move forward with surgery often hinges around finding the right time to allow a full recovery. Hip replacement recovery is different for everyone, but there are some common pathways for healing. Here is a general hip replacement recovery timeline for what you can expect.
Most people will begin their recovery in an acute post-surgical rehab facility where they receive skilled nursing care. Stays range from about 1 to 4 days after surgery. Believe it or not, you will probably begin walking either the same day as or the day after surgery. This early mobilization is the best way to prevent blood clots after surgery. It also jump-starts your recovery.
Getting out of bed and moving around will take effort. Your care team will teach you how to do it safely. At this point, you will be using a walker, cane or crutches for stability. You will need this walking aid for a few days or a few weeks, depending on how your recovery goes.
You will also start working with a physical therapist while you are in the rehab facility. The therapist will help you learn to move in ways that protect your hip and avoid movements that could be harmful in early recovery. You will also begin hip replacement recovery exercises. These exercises will speed your recovery and help you regain independence more quickly. Some of them aim to strengthen muscles without moving your hip or knee, while others involve either or both the hip and knee.
You will start some of the exercises while lying down in bed. In most cases, you’ll start out with about 10 repetitions of each several times a day, or as your therapist advises. Your physical therapist may have you complete more than one set of 10 repetitions several times a day, depending on your physical ability.
Typical hip replacement exercises may include:
- Ankle bends: Push your ankle up and down, and rotate to move it around clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Knee bends (heel slides): Slowly slide your foot towards your buttocks (keep your heel on the bed) and back down again.
- Glute, or ‘butt’ squeezes: Gently contract your buttock muscles, hold for a few seconds, then release.
- Quadriceps squeezes: Contract your thigh muscle, hold for up to 10 seconds, then release.
- Leg slides (abductor exercises): Gently slide your leg out to the side and back.
- Leg raises: Contract your quadriceps and slowly lift your leg towards the ceiling while keeping it straight.
- Standing knee raises: Lift your knee up, no higher than your waist, and down.
- Standing leg lifts: Lift your leg to the side and back down, which works the abductor muscles that support the hip.
- Standing hip extensions: Lift your leg behind you for a few seconds and back down.
You will have some pain and discomfort during this early recovery period. Using your pain medicine will make it more comfortable to move your hip and do your rehab exercises. You will also need to keep your incision clean and dry while it heals. Your doctor will likely remove your stitches or staples two weeks after surgery.
Your pain should improve during this hip replacement recovery time. It’s normal to have some discomfort with activity or at night. But tell your doctor or therapist if you are still having a lot of pain or if your pain increases.
Activity is the main focus of this recovery period. Daily physical activity and home rehab exercises are critical for your recovery. Your therapist will design a home rehab program specifically for you. You will need to complete your rehab exercises several times a day to help your hip heal properly. During the first couple of weeks, you may have been doing your exercises lying down. Now, you will be exercising out of bed and standing up. Holding on to a sturdy chair or a countertop will provide stability.
You will also continue physical therapy appointments during these weeks. As therapy progresses, you will find you can bear more weight on your leg and walk without assistance. You will transition from walking around your house to walking outside for farther distances. (Walking as much as you can before surgery will increase your tolerance for activity and hip replacement exercises after surgery.)
You will be able to resume some light daily activities at home. To keep your home safe while you recover, consider these hip replacement recovery tips ahead of time:
- Buy a reacher or grabber to pick up objects and a dressing stick or long-handled shoe horn so you don’t have to bend your hips too much.
- Get a shower bench and raised toilet seat for your bathroom.
- Install safety bars and handrails in your bathroom.
- Remove rugs, cords, and other potential tripping hazards.
- Use a long-handled sponge and shower hose to bathe.
Your doctor and therapist will give you specific instructions for protecting your hip while it heals and strengthens. During this time, you may need to avoid certain sleeping positions or sleep with a pillow between your legs. In general, you should also avoid crossing your legs and bending your hip past 90 degrees.
In this recovery time period, most people are able to return to all their normal activities. If you work, you should be able to return to work after 6 to 7 weeks of recovery. However, you may still have some limitations and some lingering weakness. Your strength and abilities will continue to improve for several months after hip replacement surgery. Returning to sports and other strenuous activities may take some additional time. Your doctor may recommend always avoiding high-impact activities with your new hip.
Full recovery can take up to a year. Your new hip may have some stiffness to it, but this tends to get better over time. Most people find they are able to move with more comfort and ease than before surgery. Strengthening exercises will continue to be part of your life with a new hip. Keeping the supporting muscles strong will stabilize your hip and help prevent future problems.