More than 300,000 people have complete hip replacement surgeries in the U.S. every year. About 90% of them feel better and can get back to normal activities months, or even weeks, after the operation.
"The happiest patients you have are total hip replacement patients," says orthopedic surgeon Claudette Lajam, MD, of the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "It's like pulling a bad tooth. Almost immediately, people feel better."
But that doesn't mean the surgery is right for everyone.
When to Consider It
The operation shouldn't be your first option. "Most patients have tried simpler things along the way before they end up opting for surgery," says orthopedic surgeon David Lewallen, MD, at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester. That may include anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen, cortisone shots, physical therapy, and crutches or walkers.
Have you noticed that your leg is bowed, or has a doctor found bone damage in your joint? "Those deformities are red flags for the doctor," Lajam says. "That's when the doctor says, 'I don't know if you're doing yourself a favor by waiting.' The worse the deformity gets, the harder it is to fix it."
If it hurts to walk, climb stairs, or do other routine things, that's a sign you might need a new joint. Your hip may ache at night or even when you're resting. When constant pain affects your daily activities and mood, it's time to talk about surgery.
"It's when there's an inability to do the things you want to do," Lajam says. "It's when you can't live your life."
When You Should Think Twice
Sometimes, hip replacement surgery may not be the best choice.
You'll need to get any recent infections, such as in your gums or teeth, taken care of before the operation. You'll lower the chance of an infection in your new joint, which is a serious problem that can lead to more surgery.
You may be more likely to have trouble afterward if you have a history of heart or lung problems, diabetes, or blood clots. Your doctor will want to get other health issues under control before operating. He may also suggest you lose weight or quit smoking.
You shouldn't have surgery when you aren't sure your hip is the cause of the trouble. "Hip pain could actually be coming from back pain or very bad knee issues," Lajam says. To check it's really in your hip, your surgeon can numb the area. "Is the pain gone? If not, you probably don't have the right spot."
Are You Ready?
You won't be able to drive or move around easily for several weeks after you get hip replaced, so you'll need folks to pitch in with errands and chores. "Help after surgery is a big deal. It's hard for patients who live alone to go immediately home without anyone to help them and check on them," Lewallen says. "It's really, really helpful to have support and help."
Consider your lifestyle. Once you've healed, you'll have to limit a few high-impact activities like basketball, soccer, and singles tennis. Other than that, you should keep moving and eat healthy to stay in good shape. Your new joint will thank you.