What to expect from hip replacement surgery

Joint Health

by Nathan Drummond, MD

Dec 3, 2018

If you’re thinking about a hip replacement, chances are you’ve been dealing with pain in your hip for some time.

There are many things that cause a hip joint to degenerate — normal wear and tear, injury, bone necrosis or even genetics — but the ultimate treatment for a degenerated hip joint is the same: a hip replacement.

Part of deciding whether hip replacement is a surgery you should consider involves knowing what you can expect from the surgery. Here are a few basic facts about hip replacements, as well as answers to questions that I commonly get asked.

What a total hip replacement entails

So, you know you’re getting a new hip. But what exactly does that mean?

When we replace your hip, we remove the worn out ball-and-socket joint and replace it with a new prosthetic joint. To replace the ball side of the joint, a metal component called a stem is embedded in the shaft of your femur (or thigh bone). Then, we place a ceramic head on the end of this stem.

To reconstruct the socket side of your hip joint, we’ll remove the old joint surface and remaining cartilage and put a hemispherical metal cup in its place. A plastic liner is placed inside the metal cup so the moving parts of the joint are ceramic on plastic.

You should always feel confident going into your surgery. If you have any questions about your surgery, talk through your concerns openly with your physician beforehand.

If this all sounds too “artificial,” don’t worry. The surface of the metal stem and cup has a special coating that allows your bone to actually grow into and bond with the metal.

There are a few different surgical approaches your surgeon could take. You might hear words like anterior, lateral and posterior. The anterior approach is the newest and has received the most attention, both by the public and in medical research. Some surgeons believe this approach allows for a faster recovery, and research shows a modest improvement in function for the first three months after surgery. But regardless of which surgical approach your surgeon takes, the bottom line is that each one is proven to be effective in helping you get back to normal life — without the hip pain you’ve been living with for too long.

You should always feel confident going into your surgery. If you have any questions about your surgery, talk through your concerns openly with your physician beforehand.

After hip replacement surgery and beyond

Once surgery is over, we’ll work with you to get you up and moving as fast as possible while at the same time keeping pain to a minimum. We want to see you walking, climbing stairs, eating, drinking and urinating without difficulty before we are ready to send you home.

For some patients, this can be the same day as surgery but for others, it may take a night or two in the hospital.

Once you are home, it’s time to relax and recover. Generally, you will need 3-4 weeks of recovery before returning to work. It will take about 6-8 weeks to get over the initial stiffness and swelling so that you can get back to your normal routine. But you should continue to see improvement throughout the next year following your surgery.

Download the treatment guide for hip pain.

Frequently asked questions about hip replacement

Will my new joint get cold when the weather changes?

  • No, the temperature of your new parts will be the same temperature as your body. However, your hip may be temperature sensitive for a while after surgery. You may also experience some aching with weather changes.

Will I set off metal detectors at the airport?

  • Tell the security personnel that you have a joint replacement and they will pull you out of line regardless of whether you have a card stating you have a hip replacement. Plan to allow for a little extra time when traveling.

How soon can I drive after a hip replacement?

  • You cannot return to driving until you can safely control your car. Typically, this is when you no longer need a cane and are not taking narcotic pain medication. Usually this is between 3-6 weeks and longer for the right side than the left.

How long will the joint last?

  • Historically, hip replacements last about 20 years. We expect for the current models to last much longer (in the 30+ year range) due to advances in technology, but we don’t have the research to prove it yet. In general, the younger you are, the higher the demand you place on your new joint and the faster it will wear out.

Related: How hip replacements are helping young people stay active longer

Talk to your doctor about ways to make your joint last as long as possible, and how to know when it’s time for a new one.

What long-term activity restrictions will I have?

  • You can and should remain active on your new hip — after all, that’s the whole point. Once you have recovered from surgery, this includes running and other impact sports.

Throughout your hip replacement surgery and recovery process, know that your surgeon and the rest of your care team are here to help. Our goal is to help you stay active, get moving and enjoy your life without letting hip pain slow you down.

Thinking about hip replacement surgery, or looking for a second opinion? Talk to an orthopedic surgeon, or explore your options today.

About the Author

Nathan Drummond, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Lakeway. Dr. Drummond is a native Texan, having grown up in San Antonio and attended college at the University of Texas in Austin. He specializes in hip and knee surgery and completed a fellowship in adult hip and knee reconstruction at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Drummond performs partial and total knee replacements, anterior approach hip replacements, and revision hip and knee surgery. As a physician, Dr. Drummond believes every patient's care should be unique. His goal is to get patients back to living active lives and doing the things they love to do — whether it takes surgery or not.

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