After undergoing hip replacement, you may expect your lifestyle after the surgery to be a lot like the way it was before, but without the pain. In many ways, you are right, but it will take time. You need to participate in the healing process to ensure a successful outcome.
You will be able to resume most activities; however, you may have to change how you do them. For example, you will 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.
Activities in the Hospital
Hip replacement is major surgery and, for the first few days, you will want to take it easy. However, it is important that you start some activities immediately to offset the effects of the anesthetic, help the healing, and keep blood clots from forming in your leg veins. Your doctor and physical and occupational therapists can give you specific instructions on wound care, pain control, diet and exercise. They should also indicate how much weight you can put on your affected leg.
Pain management is important in your early recovery. Although pain after surgery is quite variable and not entirely predictable, it does need to be controlled with medication. Initially, you may get pain medication through an IV (intravenous) tube that you can control to get the amount of medication you need. It is easier to prevent pain than to control it and you do not have to worry about becoming addicted to the medication; after a day or two, injections or pills will replace the IV tube.
In addition to the pain medication, you will also need antibiotics and blood-thinners to help prevent blood clots from forming in the veins of your thigh and calf.
You may lose your appetite and feel nauseous or constipated for a couple of days. These are ordinary reactions. You may have a urinary catheter inserted during surgery and be given stool softeners or laxatives to ease the constipation caused by the pain medication after surgery. You will be taught to do breathing exercises to keep your chest and lungs clear.
A physical therapist will visit you, usually on the day after your surgery, and teach you how to use your new joint. It is important that you get up and about as soon as possible after hip replacement surgery. Even in bed, you can pedal your feet and pump your ankles regularly to keep blood flowing in your legs. You may have to wear elastic stockings or a pneumatic sleeve, or both, to help keep blood flowing freely.
Your hospital stay may last from 3 to 10 days until you can perform certain skills you will need to use at home. If you go straight home, you will need help at home for several weeks. If going straight home is too difficult, you may spend some time at a rehabilitation center.
The following tips can make your homecoming easier.
- In the kitchen (and in other rooms as well), place items you use frequently within reach so you do not have to reach up or bend down.
- Rearrange furniture so you can get about on a walker or crutches. You may want to change rooms (make the living room your bedroom, for example) to stay off the stairs.
- Get a good chair—one that is firm and has a higher-than-average seat. This type of chair is safer and more comfortable than a low, soft-cushioned chair.
- Remove any throw rugs or area rugs that could cause you to slip. Securely fasten electrical cords around the perimeter of the room.
- Install a shower chair, grab bar, and raised toilet in the bathroom.
- Use assistive devices such as a long-handled shoehorn, a long-handled sponge, and a grabbing tool or reacher to avoid bending too far over. Wear a big-pocket shirt or soft shoulder bag for carrying things.
- Set up a “recovery center” in your home with a phone, television remote control, radio, facial tissues, wastebasket, pitcher and glass, reading materials, and medications within easy reach.
Do’s and Don’ts
Dos and don’ts (precautions) vary depending on the orthopaedic surgeon’s approach. 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 to ensure proper healing. Here are some of the most common precautions:
- Don’t cross your legs at the knees for at least 8 weeks.
- Don’t bring your knee up higher than your hip.
- Don’t lean forward while sitting or as you sit down.
- Don’t try to pick up something on the floor while you are sitting.
- Don’t turn your feet excessively inward or outward when you bend down.
- Don’t reach down to pull up blankets when lying in bed.
- Don’t bend at the waist beyond 90°.
- Don’t stand pigeon-toed.
- Don’t kneel on the knee on the unoperated leg (the good side).
- Don’t use pain as a guide for what you may or may not do.
- Do keep the leg facing forward.
- Do keep the affected leg in front as you sit or stand.
- Do use a high kitchen or barstool in the kitchen.
- Do kneel on the knee on the operated leg (the bad side).
- Do use ice to reduce pain and swelling, but remember that ice will diminish sensation. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin; use an ice pack or wrap it in a damp towel.
- Do apply heat before exercising to assist with range of motion. Use a heating pad or hot, damp towel for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Do cut back on your exercises if your muscles begin to ache, but don’t stop doing them!