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After having a hip replacement, you may expect your lifestyle to be a lot like how it was before surgery—but without the pain. In many ways, you are right, but returning to your everyday activities will take time. Being an active participant in the healing process can help you get there sooner and ensure a more successful outcome.
Even though you will be able to resume most activities, you may have to change the way you do them. For example, you may have to learn new ways of bending down that keep your new hip safe. The suggestions you find here will help you enjoy your new hip while you safely resume your daily routines.
Your hospital stay will typically last from 1 to 4 days, depending on the speed of your recovery. Before you are discharged from the hospital, you will need to accomplish several goals, such as:
If you are not yet able to accomplish these goals, it may be unsafe for you to go directly home after discharge. If this is the case, you may be temporarily transferred to a rehabilitation or skilled nursing center.
When you are discharged, your healthcare team will provide you with information to support your recovery at home. Although the complication rate after total hip replacement is low, when complications occur they can prolong or limit full recovery. Hospital staff will discuss possible complications, and review with you the warning signs of an infection or a blood clot.
In very rare cases, a blood clot may travel to your lungs and become life-threatening. Signs that a blood clot has traveled to your lungs include:
Notify your doctor immediately if you develop any of the above signs.
You will need some help at home for anywhere from several days to several weeks after discharge. Before your surgery, arrange for a friend, family member or caregiver to provide help at home.
The following tips can help make your return home more comfortable, and can be addressed before your surgery:
During your recovery at home, follow these guidelines to take care of your wound and help prevent infection:
Expect mild to moderate swelling for 3 to 6 months after surgery. To reduce swelling, elevate your leg slightly and apply ice. Wearing compression stockings may also help reduce swelling. Notify your doctor if you experience new or severe swelling, since this may be the warning sign of a blood clot.
Take all medications as directed by your doctor. Home medications may include narcotic and non-narcotic pain pills, oral or injectable blood thinners, stool softeners, and anti-nausea medications.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about all your medications–even over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and vitamins. Your doctor will tell you which over-the-counter medicines are safe to take while using prescription pain medication.
It is especially important to prevent any bacterial infections from developing in your artificial joint. Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics whenever there is the increased possibility of a bacterial infection, such as when you have dental work performed. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you have any dental work done and notify your dentist that you have had a hip replacement. You may also wish to carry a medical alert card so that, if an emergency arises, medical personnel will know that you have an artificial joint.
By the time you go home from the hospital, you should be eating a normal diet. Your doctor may recommend that you take iron and vitamin supplements. You also may be advised to avoid supplements that include vitamin K and foods rich in vitamin K if you are taking certain blood thinner medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Foods rich in vitamin K include broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, liver, green beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, soybeans, soybean oil, spinach, kale, lettuce, turnip greens, cabbage, and onions.
Continue to drink plenty of fluids, but try to limit coffee intake and avoid alcohol. You should continue to watch your weight to avoid putting more stress on the joint.
Once you get home, you should stay active. The key is to not do too much, too soon. While you can expect some good days and some bad days, you should notice a gradual improvement over time. Generally, the following guidelines will apply:
Follow your doctor’s specific instructions about the use of a cane, walker, or crutches and when you can put weight on the leg. Full weight bearing may be allowed immediately or may be delayed by several weeks depending on the type of hip replacement you have undergone and your doctor’s instructions.
In most cases, it is safe to resume driving when you are no longer taking narcotic pain medication, and when your strength and reflexes have returned to a more normal state. Your doctor will help you determine when it is safe to resume driving.
Please consult your doctor about how soon you can safely resume sexual activity. Depending on your condition, you may be able to resume sexual activity within several weeks after surgery.
Depending on your surgery, your doctor may ask you to avoid certain sleeping positions or to sleep with a pillow between your legs for a length of time. Ask your doctor which sleeping positions are safest and most appropriate for you.
Depending on the type of activities you do on the job and the speed of your recovery, it may be several weeks before you are able to return to work. Your doctor will advise you when it is safe to resume your normal work activities.
Continue to do the exercises prescribed by your physical therapist for at least 2 months after surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend riding a stationary bicycle to help maintain muscle tone and keep your hip flexible.
As soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can return to many of the sports activities you enjoyed before your hip replacement:
Pressure changes and immobility may cause your hip joint to swell, especially if it is just healing. Ask your doctor before you travel on an airplane. When going through security, be aware that the sensitivity of metal detectors varies and your artificial joint may cause an alarm. Tell the screener about your artificial joint before going through the metal detector. You may also wish to carry a medical alert card to show the airport screener.
Dos and don’ts (precautions) vary depending on your doctor’s surgical technique. Your doctor and physical therapist will provide you with a list of dos and don’ts to remember with your new hip. These precautions will help to prevent the new joint from dislocating and ensure proper healing. Here are some of the most common precautions: