7 Facts To Know Before Hip Replacement

1
Hip Replacements Can Last a Long Time, But Not Forever...

hip implant xray
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

Hip replacements will eventually wear out over time.  The good news is, with today's implants, most hip replacements are lasting several decades, and some longer.  The concern, is that sometimes hip replacements need to be redone within years of the initial surgery.  This is uncommon, but there are a number of possible complications that may require additional surgery much sooner than patients are expecting.

It is important to understand that when you ask a surgeon "How long do hip replacements last?" you are going to hear an answer that is an average.  You may hear 15 years, 20 years, or 25 years (depending on what research your surgeon is basing their response on), but what you will not hear is how long your hip replacement will last.

2
There Are Risks Of Surgery

scalpel hand surgery
Echo / Getty Images

Hip replacement is a major surgery.  As with any major surgery, there are risks and complications that can occur.  Some of these risks are common to any surgical procedure, such as infection, bleeding, nerve injury, and blood clot.  Other complications are specific to hip replacement, such as leg length difference, dislocations, and others.

The chance of any one of these complications is small (most are less than 1 or 2 percent of all patients), but these can occur.  There are some steps that you can take to help prevent these complications.  Foremost, being aware of each of these potential complications can help you take steps to minimize the chance of these occurring.  While some patients don't want to know (hoping complications will not occur), the truth is that understanding the possible complications can help you take steps to lower the chance of these occurring.

For example, there are specific steps you can take to lower the chance of infection.  Knowing how blood clots occur, and the steps you can take to prevent a blood clot, can lower the chance of this complication.

3
You Can Help Prevent Infection

surgery
Thierry Dosogne / Getty Images

Infection is one of the most troublesome complications of joint replacement surgery.  When infection gets to the replaced joint, additional surgery is almost always needed, and it is not uncommon to require multiple surgeries to cure a joint replacement infection.

The most important aspect is to take steps to prevent infection.  One step you can take, is check your hospital on the Medicare Hospital Compare website to ensure their infection rate is not higher than expected.  There are also steps you can take to help prevent infection at the time of surgery.

4
Sometimes Leg Lengths Are Unequal After Surgery

leg length
N. Aubrier / Getty Images

One of the most common problems after hip replacement, and one patients seldom expect, is unequal leg lengths.  Fortunately, some newer techniques and technologies have helped reduce the likelihood and degree of leg length discrepancy that patients experience.

Leg lengths are often adjusted to ensure optimal stability of the hip joint to prevent a hip dislocation.  In trying to make the joint more stable, your surgeon may add length to the hip.  There are several ways to limit the chance of a leg length difference including:

No surgeon uses all of these simultaneously, but using these techniques and technologies may help limit the chance of ending up with an unequal leg length.

5
Losing Weight Improves Your Chance For Success

elderly exercise
Ingram Publishing / Getty Images

Weight loss is an important aspect in relieving joint pain.  Many studies have shown that small reductions in weight (5% of body weight) can lead to significant reductions in joint pain levels.  In addition, some complications from hip replacement are higher in patients who have higher BMI.

Losing weight can be helpful in patients who want to delay joint replacement, and patients who lost weight before joint replacement are less likely to have problems during and after surgery.

Many patients chose to have joint replacement in hopes they will then lose weight.  Interestingly, studies have shown that it is unlikely that choosing to have a joint replacement will lead to weight loss

6
You May Never Be Too Old, But You May Be Too Young

knee doctor
Henglein and Steets / Getty Images

Many patients are concerned that they're either too old, or too young, to have a hip replacement.  The truth is, there is no age limit to how old (or young) you have to be to have a hip replacement.  Generally we do not consider there to be any danger to delaying a joint replacement.

As people advance in age, there is an increased chance that other medical conditions may increase the risks associated with major surgery, but many patients in their 80s and 90s have had successful hip replacement to allow them to continue their active lifestyle.  In fact, for some elderly patients, taking care of an arthritic joint may help control other medical conditions by allowing patients to remain active.

As hip replacement has become more common, and implant designs have improved, more young patients are seeking out this treatment for a worn out joint.  Once reserved for patients at least 65, hip replacements are being performed on patients in their 40s, 30s, and occasionally, even younger.  The concern in young patients is that hip replacements are likely to wear out, and performing a second (or third...) hip replacement becomes much more complicated.  It is ideal if patients can wait for replacement until they reach an age that revision hip replacement will not be necessary, but sometimes that's not possible. 

The bottom line is there is no cut-off for being either too old, or too young, to have a hip replacement.  Learn some of the signs to look for to see if you are ready for hip replacement surgery.

7
Success Can't Be Beat!

exercise elderly
Steve Cole / Getty Images

The purpose of this information is not to scare you, but to help you better understand what to expect from hip replacement.  In some ways, the most important thing to understand, is that when compared to other surgical procedures, total hip replacement is among the most successful elective surgical procedures.

When done in the right patients (people who have advanced arthritis of the hip joint who have failed simpler, non-invasive treatments), hip replacement patients have little or no hip pain, improved function, and a better quality of life than they had before surgery.  So don't be afraid, just be informed, and take steps to ensure you are one of the success stories from hip replacement surgery!

Continue Reading