Successful hip replacement procedures can change your life for the better — they can eliminate pain, increase mobility, and reduce the worry of dangerous falls as you age. Maybe that’s why the number of people electing for the procedure has more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. As of that year, there were 310,000 Americans opting for total hip replacement surgery each year.
Modern medicine and technology has made the recovery process easier for patients, and more people are choosing to combat conditions such as osteoporosis and hip arthritis at a younger age.
Are you considering becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans to have this procedure done? Here are some key questions to ask your doctor, as you evaluate whether hip replacement surgery is right for you.
1. Have I Exhausted All Other Options?
Hip replacement surgery is an entirely elective procedure — meaning there are people who would benefit from the surgery, but opt to never have it. Just as with other joint replacement surgeries, a hip replacement procedure is not recommended unless you’ve exhausted all other treatment methods.
Nonoperative measures include physical therapy, which can strengthen your hip muscles, increase your range of motion, and better allow you to manage arthritic pain. If you’d prefer to avoid hip replacement surgery, be open with your physical therapist about that goal — your professional physical therapist can formulate a plan best suited to help you achieve this. Other nonoperative treatments involve injections of an anti-inflammatory steroid called corticosteroid, and other anti-inflammatory medications that can be taken orally.
If you’ve gone through all relevant alternative treatments, and your pain and mobility issues persist, it’s time to consider hip replacement surgery.
2. What Approach Is Best for My Situation?
Not all hip replacement surgeries are alike. Ask your doctor about the approach he or she would recommend for your situation. The most common surgical procedure involves an incision made into the back. There are newer techniques, though, that involve smaller and less invasive incisions made to the front of the body.
The two methods — called posterior and anterior approaches — are extremely similar in their risks and recovery processes. For whichever approach your doctor recommends, you’ll want to find a surgeon who is specifically experienced in executing that method.
3. What Are My Risks?
While this may not be the most optimistic of questions, it’s important to ask about complications. The risks of hip replacement surgery include: infection, dislocation of the new parts, an increase in certain medical complications, and having one leg shorter than the other.
It’s better to be aware of these risks ahead of time — and prepare for them — than to have an unwelcome surprise during your recovery. Your doctor should be able to assess your current condition and medical history to tell you whether you’re more or less prone to any particular risks.
4. What Materials Should Make Up My Joint Replacement?
In the world of prosthetics, it’s not one material fits all! A hip replacement is made up of two basic components: the ball and socket. The prosthetic hip socket is often made of titanium, while the ball can be made from cobalt chrome, oxinium, or ceramic. Along with the variation in materials, there are two different ways your prosthetics can be attached to the bone: cemented and cementless. Of course, each technique comes with its own pros and cons.
You don’t have to select these new parts by yourself — your doctor should be able to suggest prosthetics that will work best for your body.
5. Is There an Orthopedic Surgeon You Recommend?
Ask if there’s a surgeon your doctor recommends for your procedure; and then, ask for an explanation of why that surgeon would be a good fit for your surgery.
How many years of experience does the surgeon have? Has the surgeon performed your specific type of hip replacement — using the same prosthetic materials, and the same method of approach — in the past? If so, what is the surgeon’s success rate with this type of procedure? Your doctor should have solid reasons for making the recommendation, and you should only go into a procedure with a surgeon that makes you feel comfortable.
6. What Will My Recovery Be Like?
The average short-term recovery period for hip replacement surgery is four to six weeks, at which time you should be able to walk two blocks with minimal pain. Long-term recovery can take up to six months, as soft tissue and surgical wounds heal. Ask your doctor for an estimate on your expected recovery time, and for a recommendation of a support team of physical therapists and other professionals you can rely on through the recovery process.
Prepare for a doctor’s appointment as you would an interview — have a list of questions you want answered, and listen closely for any areas needing clarification. Don’t be afraid to press for more explanation; your doctor is there to help you make the right choice for your own body, so no question is too small. If you do choose to move forward with a hip replacement procedure, these questions will help prepare you to recover quickly and smoothly.