Hip Replacement Surgery: Recovery

Hip replacement surgery recovery usually takes around four weeks. This may surprise some who expect a longer period given how significant the surgery is (damaged cartilage and bone of the hip joint is removed and replaced with artificial parts). While this timeframe is, in fact, realized for many hip replacement patients, some may end up having extended recovery periods due to their age, activity level before surgery, or co-existing health conditions.

Diligent follow-up and dedication to rehabilitation are key to making the most progress as soon as possible and getting back on your feet.

Nurse helping a woman in a hospital
Jochen Sands / Getty Images

Surgery Follow-Up

The precise timing of when to follow-up after hip replacement surgery varies among orthopedic surgeons.

Here is a typical schedule:

  • Two weeks after surgery
  • Six weeks after surgery
  • One year after surgery
  • Every five years after surgery

The purpose of these visits is to see how well you are healing and to monitor for complications like infection. If you have non-absorbable stitches or sutures placed during surgery, these will be taken out during the two-week post-operative visit.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy (PT) efforts begin while you are in the hospital. They include doing simple exercises like ankle pumps, leg lifts, and heel slides, followed by getting up and out of bed and into a chair.

But you may also need to attend regular physical therapy (PT) appointments after you are discharged.

The main goals of physical therapy are to:

  • Help you regain normal strength of the muscles surrounding your hip
  • Improve your gait

In additional to the work you put in at your PT appointments, it's likely that your therapist will prescribe exercises for you to do at home as well.

Recovery Timeline

After hip replacement surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for approximately one to three days. Exceptions to this are carefully selected patients who undergo outpatient hip replacement, which is becoming more and more of a reality.

As you recover in the hospital, and in addition to receiving general medical care and physical therapy, you can expect to:

  • Ice your hip and incision site and elevate your leg when laying down.
  • Work with an occupational therapist who will help you prepare for tasks like washing, dressing, and other daily activities.

Most patients can go home safely after their hospital stay with the assistance of a family member or friend. Patients who cannot safely return to their homes after surgery will go to a rehabilitation center for about seven to 10 days after discharge.

Once at home, it's important to follow your discharge instructions, which will likely suggest the following:

  • Continue icing your hip as instructed
  • Take your pain medication as directed, which usually includes a combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids
  • Take any other medications as instructed, like a blood thinner, antibiotic, or stool softener
  • Resume your normal diet and drink lots of fluids
  • Attend all of your surgery and physical therapy appointments

Return to Physical Activity

Your surgeon will advise you on when you can return to various activities after the operation. It's important to follow their instructions to optimize your healing and help prevent complications.

Activity Typical Point Resumed Post-Surgery*
Walking with a walker/crutches 1 to 2 days
Walking with a cane 4 weeks
Unassisted walking 6 to 8 weeks
Driving 1 to 6 weeks
Work (seated/limited activity) 3 weeks
Work (standing/active) 6 to 8 weeks
Exercise/Sporting Activities 6 weeks
Sex 6 weeks

*These are general timeframes for resuming physical activities safely. What's best for you may be different than what is listed here. Speak with your doctor.

Walking

Most patients take their first steps after surgery with the aid of a walker. Patients with good balance and a strong upper body may opt to use crutches.

Transitioning to a cane, which takes about four weeks, depends on two main factors:

  • Restrictions from your surgeon (not all allow full weight to be placed on the leg in the early weeks after surgery)
  • Your ability to regain leg muscle strength

From a cane, the usual time to walking unassisted is about six to eight weeks after surgery.

Exercise and Sex

The usual time to return to various activities like biking, golfing, swimming, or having sex is around six weeks. This assumes that your wound has fully healed and that you feel comfortable and ready.

Driving

Patients can usually return to driving anywhere between one to six weeks after surgery, so long as they can safely and quickly operate the gas and brake pedals and are off all opioid pain medication.

Work

A patient's return to work depends on their specific occupation and the type of activity involved.

Patients who work in a seated position with limited walking can plan on returning within about three weeks from the time of surgery. Patients who are more active at work (e.g., laborers) may need several weeks until they can return to full duties.

Other

Your surgeon may advise you on additional precautions when sitting, bending, or sleeping in order to protect your newly implanted hip. These precautions prevent you from placing your hip in a position where the ball could potentially come out of the socket (a problem called a hip dislocation).

Because of newly designed implants and new surgical techniques, these precautions are becoming less commonly recommended.

Coping With Recovery

Hip replacement surgery requires careful planning. In fact, probably the most important factor in coping with your recovery is being organized and psychologically prepared before actually having the surgery.

You can do this by:

  • Purchasing or renting all of your equipment and having it ready to use at your home. This includes your walker and crutches, but also things like a shower chair and elevated toilet seat.
  • Removing home hazards that increase your risk of falling (e.g., loose rugs or electrical cords).
  • Lining up some friends who can assist you with tasks like grocery shopping, if needed.
  • Arranging for home services, like a visiting nurse or physical therapist.
  • Talking with your surgeon in detail about what to expect from the surgery.

Even though hip replacement surgery is an elective surgery, it's normal to feel a bit uneasy or nervous before and after the operation. If you are struggling to feel emotionally well about surgery or throughout the recovery process, please reach out to your surgeon or internist. They can provide you with a referral to a mental health professional.

Wound Care

To prevent infection, it's important to keep the wound site over your hip clean, dry, and covered with a dressing. While you can remove the dressing around seven to 10 days after surgery, you still do not want to submerge or soak the wound in water until it fully heals (about three to four weeks after surgery).

Call your surgeon immediately if you develop any symptoms or signs of an infection, such as:

  • Fever or chills
  • Redness, swelling, or warmth around the incision site
  • Fluid draining from the incision site
  • Increased hip pain

In addition, patients who have undergone hip surgery are at risk for developing blood clots in their legs. Be sure to call your surgeon if you develop any pain, swelling, or redness in your leg or calf.

Seek emergency medical attention if you develop chest pain or trouble breathing, as this could be a sign of a pulmonary embolism (when the blood clot travels to your lungs).

A Word From Verywell

Recovering from hip replacement surgery requires a steadfast commitment on your part. To optimize your recovery, you may consider talking with your surgeon about engaging in a preoperative joint replacement education/exercise program. Research suggests these programs might help patients achieve successful and speedy recoveries.

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Article Sources
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