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Premier Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
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Copyright 2014 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Activities After Hip Replacement

After undergoing hip replacement, you may expect your lifestyle to be a lot like how it was before surgery—but without the pain. In many ways, you are right, but returning to your everyday activities will take time. Being an active participant in the healing process can help you get there sooner and ensure a more successful outcome.

Even though you will be able to resume most activities, you may have to change the way you do them. For example, you may have to learn new ways of bending down that keep your new hip safe. The suggestions you find here will help you enjoy your new hip while you safely resume your daily routines.

Your Hospital Stay

Returning to your daily activities is a process that begins during the few days you spend in the hospital after your procedure. Hip replacement is major surgery and, at first, you will want to just take it easy. It is important, however, that you start some activities immediately to help prevent complications and begin healing.

Pain Management

Proper pain management is important in early recovery. When you feel less pain, you can start moving sooner and get your strength back more quickly.

Pain after surgery varies from person to person. While you should expect to feel some discomfort, it can be managed with medication. During your stay in the hospital, your pain medication may be provided in different forms:

  • Oral (pill form);
  • Intravenous (IV) tube;
  • Patient-controlled anesthesia (PCA), which allows you to press a button to release a small amount of medicine through an intravenous (IV) tube when you begin to feel pain.

Remember that it is easier to control pain if you address it before it gets too severe. After a day or two, oral medication will completely replace intravenous medication.

Decreased appetite, nausea, and constipation are common side effects from pain medication and anesthesia. You may experience these symptoms for several days after surgery, but they will generally improve with time. If needed, your doctor may provide stool softeners and anti-nausea medication. Moving and walking will also help decrease these symptoms.

Additional Postoperative Care

In addition to pain management, there will be other medical interventions in the hospital that affect your early recovery.

  • During the operation, a urinary catheter may be placed to help empty your bladder after surgery. The catheter is usually removed within 24 hours.
  • Initially, you may have a dressing on the incision and a drain to remove any fluid build-up around the hip. The drain will be removed in a day or two.
  • You will be given breathing exercises to prevent congestion from developing in your chest and lungs.

Preventing Complications

Although the complication rate after hip replacement surgery is low, when complications occur they can prolong or limit full recovery. The complications most likely to occur include infection and blood clots. Your doctor and healthcare team will take several measures to prevent these complications.

  • Infection. An infection may occur in the wound or deep around the implant. Because of this risk, antibiotics are given within one hour of the start of surgery (usually once in the operating room) and continued for 24 hours following the procedure.
  • Blood clots. Surgery and postoperative immobility increase the risk of blood clots forming in your legs. These blood clots can cause pain and swelling, and may be life threatening if they break free and travel to your lungs. There are several measures your doctor may prescribe to prevent blood clots, including:
    • Blood thinners;
    • Early movement—Even while in bed, you can pedal your feet and pump your ankles regularly to keep blood flowing in your legs;
    • Elastic support stockings and/or pneumatic compression sleeves (a pneumatic compression sleeve inflates and deflates in order to help keep the blood flowing in your legs).

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist will visit you shortly after your surgery to teach you how to use your new hip joint. Most patients begin standing and walking with the help of a walking support and a physical therapist the day after surgery. Your physical therapist will teach you specific exercises to strengthen your hip and restore movement for walking and other normal daily activities.

Hospital Discharge

Your hospital stay will typically last from 1 to 4 days, depending on the speed of your recovery. Before you are discharged from the hospital, you will need to accomplish several goals, such as:

  • Getting in and out of bed by yourself.
  • Having acceptable pain control.
  • Being able to eat, drink, and use the bathroom.
  • Walking with an assistive device (a cane, walker, or crutches) on a level surface and being able to climb up and down two or three stairs.
  • Being able to perform the prescribed home exercises.
  • Understanding any hip precautions you may have been given to prevent injury and ensure proper healing.

If you are not yet able to accomplish these goals, it may be unsafe for you to go directly home after discharge. If this is the case, you may be temporarily transferred to a rehabilitation or skilled nursing center.

When you are discharged, your healthcare team will provide you with information to support your recovery at home. They will discuss possible complications, and review with you the warning signs of an infection or a blood clot.

Warning Signs of Infection

  • Persistent fever (higher than 100 degrees)
  • Shaking chills
  • Increasing redness, tenderness or swelling of your wound
  • Drainage from your wound
  • Increasing pain with both activity and rest

Warning Signs of a Blood Clot

  • Pain in your leg or calf unrelated to your incision
  • Tenderness or redness above or below your knee
  • Severe swelling of your thigh, calf, ankle or foot

Signs that a blood clot has traveled to your lungs include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden onset of chest pain
  • Localized chest pain with coughing

Notify your doctor immediately if you develop any of the above signs.

Recovery at Home

You will need some help at home for anywhere from several days to several weeks after discharge. Before your surgery, arrange for a friend, family member or caregiver to provide help at home.

Preparing Your Home

The following tips can help make your return home more comfortable, and can be addressed before your surgery:

  • Rearrange furniture so you can maneuver with a cane, walker, or crutches. You may temporarily change rooms (make the living room your bedroom, for example) to minimize the use of stairs.
  • Place items you use frequently (phone, remote control, glasses, pitcher and glass, reading material and medications, for example) within easy reach so you do not have to reach up or bend down.
  • Remove any throw rugs or area rugs that could cause you to slip. Securely fasten electrical cords around the perimeter of the room.
  • Get a good chair—one that is firm and has a higher-than-average seat. This type of chair is safer and more comfortable than a low, soft-cushioned chair.
  • Install a shower chair, gripping bar, and raised toilet seat in the bathroom.
  • Use assistive devices such as a long-handled shoehorn, a long-handled sponge, and a grabbing tool or reacher to avoid bending over too far.
Place items that you use frequently within easy reach.

Wound Care

During your recovery at home, follow these guidelines to take care of your wound and help prevent infection:

  • Keep the wound area clean and dry. A dressing will be applied in the hospital and should be changed as often as necessary. Ask for instructions on how to change the dressing before you leave the hospital.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions on how long to wait before you shower or bathe.
  • Notify your doctor immediately if the wound appears red or begins to drain. This could be a sign of infection.

Swelling

Expect mild to moderate swelling for 3 to 6 months after surgery. To reduce swelling, elevate your leg slightly and apply ice. Wearing compression stockings may also help reduce swelling. Notify your doctor if you experience new or severe swelling, since this may be the warning sign of a blood clot.

Medication

Take all medications as directed by your doctor. Home medications may include narcotic and non-narcotic pain pills, oral or injectable blood thinners, stool softeners, and anti-nausea medications.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about all your medications--even over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and vitamins. Your doctor will tell you which over-the-counter medicines are safe to take while using prescription pain medication.

It is especially important to prevent any bacterial infections from developing in your artificial joint. Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics whenever there is the increased possibility of a bacterial infection, such as when you have dental work performed. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you have any dental work done and notify your dentist that you have had a hip replacement. You may also wish to carry a medical alert card so that, if an emergency arises, medical personnel will know that you have an artificial joint.

Diet

By the time you go home from the hospital, you should be eating a normal diet. Your doctor may recommend that you take iron and vitamin C supplements. You also may be advised to avoid supplements that include vitamin K and foods rich in vitamin K if you are taking certain blood thinner medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Foods rich in vitamin K include broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, liver, green beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, soybeans, soybean oil, spinach, kale, lettuce, turnip greens, cabbage, and onions.

Continue to drink plenty of fluids, but try to limit coffee intake and avoid alcohol. You should continue to watch your weight to avoid putting more stress on the joint.

Resuming Normal Activities

Once you get home, you should stay active. The key is to not do too much, too soon. While you can expect some good days and some bad days, you should notice a gradual improvement over time. Generally, the following guidelines will apply:

Weight Bearing

Follow your doctor's specific instructions about the use of a cane, walker, or crutches and when you can put weight on the leg. Full weight bearing may be allowed immediately or may be delayed by several weeks depending on the type of hip replacement you have undergone and your doctor's instructions.

Driving

In most cases, it is safe to resume driving when you are no longer taking narcotic pain medication, and when your strength and reflexes have returned to a more normal state. Your doctor will help you determine when it is safe to resume driving.

Sexual Activity

Please consult your doctor about how soon you can safely resume sexual activity. Depending on your condition, you may be able to resume sexual activity within several weeks after surgery.

Sleeping Positions

Depending on your surgery, your doctor may ask you to avoid certain sleeping positions or to sleep with a pillow between your legs for a length of time. Ask your doctor which sleeping positions are safest and most appropriate for you.

Return to Work

Depending on the type of activities you do on the job and the speed of your recovery, it may be several weeks before you are able to return to work. Your doctor will advise you when it is safe to resume your normal work activities.

Sports and Exercise

Continue to do the exercises prescribed by your physical therapist for at least 2 months after surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend riding a stationary bicycle to help maintain muscle tone and keep your hip flexible.

As soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can return to many of the sports activities you enjoyed before your hip replacement:

  • Walk as much as you would like, but remember that walking is no substitute for the exercises prescribed by your doctor and physical therapist.
  • Swimming is an excellent low-impact activity after a total hip replacement; you can begin as soon as the sutures have been removed and the wound is healed.
  • In general, lower impact fitness activities such as golfing, bicycling, and light tennis, put less stress on your hip joint and are preferable over high-impact activities such as jogging, racquetball and skiing.

Air Travel

Pressure changes and immobility may cause your hip joint to swell, especially if it is just healing. Ask your doctor before you travel on an airplane. When going through security, be aware that the sensitivity of metal detectors varies and your artificial joint may cause an alarm. Tell the screener about your artificial joint before going through the metal detector. You may also wish to carry a medical alert card to show the airport screener.

Dos and Don'ts To Protect Your New Hip

Dos and don'ts (precautions) vary depending on your doctor's surgical technique. Your doctor and physical therapist will provide you with a list of dos and don'ts to remember with your new hip. These precautions will help to prevent the new joint from dislocating and ensure proper healing. Here are some of the most common precautions:

The Don'ts

  • Don't cross your legs at the knees for at least 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Don't bring your knee up higher than your hip.
  • Don't lean forward while sitting or as you sit down.
  • Don't try to pick up something on the floor while you are sitting.
  • Don't turn your feet excessively inward or outward when you bend down.
  • Don't reach down to pull up blankets when lying in bed.
  • Don't bend at the waist beyond 90 degrees.

The Dos

  • Do keep the leg facing forward.
  • Do keep the affected leg in front as you sit or stand.
  • Do use a high kitchen or barstool in the kitchen.
  • Do kneel on the knee on the operated leg (the bad side).
  • Do use ice to reduce pain and swelling, but remember that ice will diminish sensation. Don't apply ice directly to the skin; use an ice pack or wrap it in a damp towel.
  • Do apply heat before exercising to assist with range of motion. Use a heating pad or hot, damp towel for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Do cut back on your exercises if your muscles begin to ache, but don't stop doing them!
Last reviewed: June 2014
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS "Find an Orthopaedist" program on this website.
Copyright 2014 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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