HIP Replacement - FAQs

What is TOTAL HIP REPLACEMENT?

A total hip replacement is a surgical procedure whereby the diseased cartilage and bone of the hip joint is surgically replaced with artificial materials. The normal hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The socket is a "cup-shaped" bone of the pelvis called the acetabulum. The ball is the head of the thigh bone (femur). Total hip joint replacement involves surgical removal of the diseased ball and socket, and replacing them with a metal ball and stem inserted into the femur bone and an artificial plastic cup socket. The metallic artificial ball and stem are referred to as the "prosthesis." Upon inserting the prosthesis into the central core of the femur, it is fixed with a bony cement. Alternatively, a "cementless" prosthesis is used which has microscopic pores that allow bony ingrowths from the normal femur into the prosthesis stem. This "cementless" hip is felt to have a longer duration and is considered especially for younger patients.

Who is a candidate for TOTAL HIP REPLACEMENT?

  • Progressively severe arthritis (osteoarthritis) in the hip joint. This type of arthritis is generally seen with aging, congenital abnormality of the hip joint, or prior trauma to the hip joint.
  • Other conditions leading to total hip replacement include bony fractures of the hip joint, rheumatoid arthritis, and death (aseptic necrosis) of the hip bone. Hip bone necrosis can be caused by fracture of the hip, drugs (such as alcohol or prednisone), diseases (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and conditions (such as kidney transplantation).
  • The progressively intense chronic pain together with impairment of daily function (despite use of anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications) including walking, climbing stairs and even arising from a sitting position, eventually become reasons to consider a total hip replacement.

What are the risks of TOTAL HIP REPLACEMENT?

The blood clots in the lower extremities can travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism) which can cause respiratory failure and shock. Other problems include difficulty with urination, local skin or joint infection, fracture of the bone during and after surgery, scarring and limitation of motion of the hip, and dislocation and loosening of the prosthesis which eventually leads to prosthesis failure.

What does the preoperative evaluation entail?

  • Total hip joint replacement can involve blood loss so blood transfusion may be required.
  • The preoperative evaluation generally includes a review of all medications being taken by the patient. Anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, are often discontinued one week prior to surgery because of the effect of these medications on platelet function and blood clotting. They may be reinstituted after surgery.
  • Other preoperative evaluations include complete blood counts, electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate), blood tests for kidney and liver functions, urinalysis, chest x-ray, ECG, and a physical examination. Any indications of infection, severe heart or lung disease, or active metabolic disturbances such as uncontrolled diabetes, may postpone or defer total hip joint surgery.

What will it be like for the patient after surgery?

  • A total hip joint replacement takes approximately two to four hours of surgical time. The preparation prior to surgery may take additional hours. After surgery, the patient is taken to a recovery room for immediate observation which generally lasts between one to four hours. The lower extremities will be closely observed for both adequate sensation and circulation. If unusual symptoms of numbness or tingling are noted inform your nurse / doctor. Upon stabilization, the patient is transferred to ward.
  • During the immediate recovery period, patients are given intravenous fluids to maintain a patient's electrolytes as well as for administering antibiotics. Patients also will notice tubes draining fluid from the surgical wound site. The amount and character of the drainage is important to the doctor and can be monitored closely by the nurse in attendance. A dressing is applied in the operating room and will remain in place for two to four days to be later changed by the attending surgeon and staff.
  • Pain control medications are commonly given through a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump whereby patients can actually administer their own dose of medications on demand. Pain medications occasionally can cause nausea and vomiting for which medications may then be given.
  • Measures are taken to prevent blood clots in the lower extremities. Patients are placed in elastic hose (TEDs) after surgery. Compression stockings are often added which act by squeezing with circulating air in plastic bags wrapped around the legs, forcing blood circulation. Patients are encouraged to actively exercise the lower extremities in order to mobilize venous blood in the lower extremities to prevent blood clots. Medications are often given to thin the blood in order to further prevent blood clots.
  • Patients may also experience difficulty with urination. This difficulty can be a side effect of medications given for pain. As a result, catheters are often placed into the bladder to allow normal passage of urine.
  • Immediately after surgery, patients are encouraged to frequently perform deep breathing and coughing in order to avoid lung congestion and the collapse of tiny airways in the lungs.

What is involved in the rehabilitation process after TOTAL HIP JOINT REPLACEMENT?

  • After total hip joint replacement surgery, patients often start physical therapy immediately. On the first day after surgery, it is common to begin some minor physical therapy while sitting in a chair. Eventually, rehabilitation incorporates stepping, walking, and climbing. Initially, supportive devices such as walker or crutches are used. Pain is monitored while exercise takes place. Some degree of discomfort is normal. It is often very gratifying for the patient to notice, even early on, substantial relief from the preoperative pain for which the total hip replacement was performed.
  • Physical therapy is extremely important in the overall outcome of any joint replacement surgery. The goals of physical therapy are to prevent contractures, improve patient education, and strengthen muscles around the hip joint through controlled exercises. Contractures result from scarring of the tissues around the joint. Contractures do not permit full range of motion, and therefore impede mobility of the replaced joint. Patients are instructed not to strain the hip joint with heavy lifting or other unusual activities at home. Specific techniques of body posturing, sitting, and using an elevated toilet seat can be extremely helpful. Patients are instructed not to cross the operated lower extremity across the midline of the body (not crossing the leg over the other leg) because of the risk of dislocating the replaced joint. They are discouraged from bending at the waist and are instructed to use a pillow between the legs when lying on the nonoperated side in order to prevent the operated lower extremity from crossing over the midline. Patients are given home exercise programs to strengthen the muscles around the buttock and thigh. Most patients attend outpatient physical therapy for a period of time while incorporating home exercises regularly into their daily living.
  • Occupational therapists are also part of the rehabilitation process. These therapists review precautions with the patients related to everyday activities. They also educate the patients about the adaptive equipment that is available and the proper ways to do their activities of daily living.
  • Patients are instructed to look for signs of infection including swelling, warmth, redness, or increased pain in or around the surgical site and notify the doctor immediately if these changes are noted. The wound site will be inspected regularly by the attending physician. The sutures, which are usually staples, are removed several weeks after the operation.

How can patients protect the total hip joint replacement in the long Term?

  • Strenuous exercises such as running or contact sports are discouraged, since these activities can re-injure the replaced hip. Swimming is ideal in improving muscle strength, and promoting mobility and endurance.
  • Antibiotics are recommended during any invasive procedures, whether surgical,urological, gastroenterological, or dental. Infections elsewhere in the body should also be treated to prevent seeding of infection into the joint. This is important because bacteria can pass through the blood stream from these sites and cause infection of the hip prosthesis.
  • Hip joint replacement surgery is one of the most successful joint surgeries performed today. In well-selected patients, who are appropriate candidates for total hip replacements, the procedure lasts at least 15 years in nearly 95 percent of patients. Long-term results have been improving impressively with new devices and techniques. The future will provide newer techniques which will further improve patient outcomes and lessen the potential for complications.