When you have hip pain that doesn’t go away with nonsurgical treatments, such as pain medications and rest, your doctor might recommend having a total hip arthroplasty done. During this procedure, also known as a total hip replacement, surgeons remove cartilage and other parts of the hip joint that have worn away or been damaged and replace them with artificial parts. This helps your hip become fully functional again and relieves pain and stiffness, which allows you to go about your normal activities.
Why Are Total Hip Replacements Done?
Your hip joints contain bones, cartilage, ligaments and membranes that make it possible for you to twist, turn and move your hips smoothly and comfortably. The aging process, injuries and other medical conditions can cause the cartilage that cushions your hip bones to wear away, which results in pain as the ends of these bones rub against each other. You also have a membrane around your hip joint that releases fluid to ease friction. When the amount of fluid decreases, you can also experience stiffness and soreness.
Total hip arthroplasty is done to relieve chronic hip pain caused by trauma, arthritis and other conditions. When you have osteoarthritis, which usually occurs with the aging process, your hip joints can become painful as the cartilage deteriorates. When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your hip membrane can develop inflammation and cause cartilage damage. Severe injuries to one or both hips can also lead you to develop arthritis, while childhood hip problems can also result in arthritis later in life.
Is Total Hip Arthroplasty a Good Option for You?
A total hip replacement can be a good option if you have persistent pain that isn’t responding to other types of treatment, such as applying ice or taking pain medications. Your doctor might discuss this option with you when you have hip pain that severely limits your activities and causes you considerable discomfort on a regular basis, even while you’re resting. There aren’t any weight or age restrictions for this procedure, but your surgeon will evaluate your condition first in order to determine if it’s right for you. Your surgeon will want to know your medical history, including information on underlying health conditions that could complicate surgery. You will also undergo a physical exam and have X-rays and other imaging tests done to evaluate the extent of the damage to your hip joint.
What Does This Procedure Involve?
Total hip arthroplasty involves having damaged or worn down cartilage and bone taken out of your joints and replacing those with artificial parts. The procedure typically involves the following steps:
- Taking out the damaged head of your thighbone and inserting a metal stem into the middle of your thighbone.
- Placing an artificial ball made of cement or metal on the top of the metal stem to replace the thighbone head.
- Removing damaged cartilage from the hip socket, inserting a metal socket and securing it in place
- Placing a spacer made of ceramic, metal or plastic between the artificial head and socket in your joint to help it move smoothly
A total hip replacement usually takes about a few hours to perform. Before going into surgery, you will be given either general anesthesia or localized anesthesia that will numb you from the waist down.
What Is the Recovery Process Like?
You can expect to recover for several weeks or months following total hip arthroplasty. During recovery, you will need to care for the wound, do exercises that are considered safe in order to build strength and flexibility and limit certain activities until you are fully recovered.
Are There Any Risks?
Total hip arthroplasty has a high success rate and is considered safe, but it does have possible risks, which is true of any surgery. These potential risks include:
- Infection: Infections can occur in your hip joint or around the surgical site, although proper wound care lowers this risk.
- Blood clots: These clots can form and cause potentially life-threatening complications if left untreated. Your surgeon can help you prevent blood clots in several ways, such as recommending that you wear support hose or take blood thinning medications.
- Nerve damage: Damage to the nerves in and around your hip joint can occur, although is very rare.
- Dislocated joint: The artificial ball can fall out of the socket, especially during the recovery process, but this is not common.