Patient Information

What is hip replacement?

What is hip replacement? — Hip replacement is a type of surgery in which a doctor replaces a person’s hip joint with a man-made hip joint.

The hip joint is a type of joint called a “ball and socket joint.” It’s called that because the top of the thigh bone is ball-shaped and fits into part of the pelvic bones (figure 1). Normally, a person’s hip joint can move smoothly in many directions.

When people have problems with their hip joint, the hip can be painful, stiff, and have trouble moving normally. Different conditions can cause problems with the hip joint, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis – This is the most common type of arthritis and often comes with age.
  • Other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hip problems that people are born with or get during childhood
  • Hip injuries

Hip replacement is a treatment that can reduce hip pain and improve the way the hip moves.

When are hip joint problems treated with hip replacement? — Hip joint problems from arthritis can be treated with hip replacement right away. But doctors sometimes suggest trying other treatments first, such as weight loss, medicines, physical therapy, or devices such as canes or walkers. If these treatments do not help enough, then doctors might suggest hip replacement.

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One reason doctors suggest trying other treatments first is that a replacement hip joint can wear out over time. Hip replacements usually last at least 10 to 15 years, and some last longer. The number of years a replacement hip joint lasts depends on different factors, such as how active the person is.

What happens during hip replacement surgery? — Hip replacement surgery takes place in an operating room in a hospital. A doctor will give you medicines to make you sleep and to numb your body. Then your doctor will make a cut on your outer hip and thigh. He or she will replace your hip joint with a man-made hip joint, called a prosthesis. A prosthesis can be made out of plastic, metal, or ceramic (figure 2).

What happens after surgery? — After surgery, most people stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days. While you are in the hospital, you will get:

  • Medicines to treat your pain
  • Antibiotic medicines to prevent infections
  • Medicines to prevent blood clots in the legs
  • Special boots or stockings to prevent blood clots in the legs
  • Physical therapy – Most people are able to stand and walk (with help) within 1 day after surgery. The physical therapist will teach you exercises to make the muscles around your hip stronger. He or she will work with you on bending, walking, and climbing stairs so that you can move normally.
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Where do I go after I leave the hospital? — Many people go home. But some people stay in a nursing home or rehabilitation facility for a short time in order to get stronger before going home. Wherever you go, you will need to do your exercises and have physical therapy.

When will I be able to do my usual activities again? — Most people can do their usual activities again within 3 to 6 months. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if there are any activities that you should avoid.

What problems can people have from hip replacement? — People can have different problems from hip replacement, but serious problems are uncommon. Problems from hip replacement can happen:

  • During hip replacement – For example, a bone can break, or nerves or blood vessels can be damaged.
  • Right after hip replacement – People can get an infection or blood clots in the legs. Also, the thigh bone or prosthesis can pop out of place.
  • Years after hip replacement – The hip joint can become loose and pop out of place, become stiff, or wear out.
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How do I know if hip replacement is right for me? — To help you decide if hip replacement is right for you, talk with your doctor or nurse. You can ask him or her:

  • What are the benefits of hip replacement?
  • What are the downsides to hip replacement?
  • Are there other options besides hip replacement?
  • What happens if I do not have hip replacement?