Alternatives to Hip Replacement

Severe hip arthritis can cause pain and difficulty walking. Many people who have these debilitating symptoms because of hip arthritis will elect to undergo total hip replacement surgery. However, total hip replacement is not without its own risks and concerns, and therefore many people wonder if there are alternatives to hip replacement.

Man holding his hip in pain on a couch
Jeannot Olivet / Getty Images

Nonsurgical Treatment

Not having surgery is always an option. Hip replacement surgery is almost never a mandatory treatment; rather it is an elective condition that people can choose to have if the timing is right for them. People who have severe arthritis of the hip, but function adequately, can choose to live with their condition.

There are effective treatments for hip arthritis that may help people avoid the need for a total hip replacement. Among these are physical therapy, walking aids, anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and joint supplements.

In general, hip replacement surgery is not an urgent procedure, and most often there is no harm in delaying surgery until you feel the time is right. With some exceptions, a hip replacement is an elective surgery.

Hip Resurfacing

Hip resurfacing surgery is an alternative to standard hip replacements for patients with severe arthritis. In a hip resurfacing surgery, the implant is smaller, and less normal bone is removed. Hip resurfacing is gaining interest, especially in younger patients.

During the hip resurfacing procedure, only a small amount of bone is removed from the ball-and-socket hip joint, and a metal cap is placed on top of the ball. A metal socket is placed in the pelvis, similar to the hip replacement procedure. This hip resurfacing preserves much more normal bone than a standard hip replacement.

Hip resurfacing surgery has become much less common in recent years because of concerns about using so-called metal-on-metal joint replacements. These metal-on-metal replacements include all current hip resurfacing implants.

Metal-on-metal replacements have had some well-known recalls and problems causing both doctors and their patients to be very wary of these procedures and these implants.​

Partial Hip Replacement

A partial hip replacement (hemiarthroplasty) is a commonly performed surgical procedure, but not commonly performed for hip arthritis. During this surgical procedure, only the ball of the ball-and-socket hip joint is a replacement. This is an effective treatment for certain types of hip fractures when only the ball of the hip is damaged.

The problem for people with severe hip arthritis is that the socket of this hip is also damaged, and therefore also needs to be addressed. For this reason, partial hip replacements are generally not a good option for hip arthritis surgery.

Hip Fusion

Hip fusion (arthrodesis) is a seldom-performed procedure now that hip replacement has become so successful. Hip fusion surgery eliminates all motion at the hip joint by having the bones of the femur and pelvis heal together. They are held in this position by a large metal plate and screws.

Hip fusions are usually done in young patients who are heavy laborers. The hip fusion does not wear out like hip replacements would in these patients. The hip fusion allows the patient to perform physically demanding tasks that could lead to early wear on a total hip replacement.

The problem with hip fusion is that patients will have no motion of the hip, they will walk with a limp, and may eventually need further surgery to convert to a hip replacement.

Resection Arthroplasty

A resection arthroplasty (Girdlestone procedure) is a procedure where the bone around the hip joint is removed and the joint space is allowed to fill with scar tissue. This procedure is usually done in patients with a severe infection that cannot be controlled, or in patients whose physical condition is such that they have little chance of normal walking.

Patients who undergo a Girdlestone resection arthroplasty will likely need some device (crutches or walker) for walking.

Hip Osteotomy

Hip osteotomy is a procedure that is done to realign the bones of the hip joint. The osteotomy can be performed on the thigh bone (femur), the pelvis, or both. Osteotomies are usually performed on patients with an underlying problem that has led to early arthritis of the hip joint.

For example, developmental conditions such as hip dysplasia can lead to early hip arthritis. Hip dysplasia occurs in infants and leads to malaligned bones around the hip. The osteotomy helps to realign the bones and relieve the symptoms of early arthritis. These procedures must be done in carefully selected patients.

A Word From Verywell

These are some of the options for people who have severe hip arthritis who may be looking for a treatment alternative to a replacement. While not all of these options may be realistic if you have interest in one of these options you should discuss it with your surgeon.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.