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What Are Hip Abduction Pillows?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 06, 2022

Perhaps you or someone you know is preparing for an invasive surgery that requires stabilization of the lower body as a part of the healing process. If this is the case, your doctor has likely suggested the use of hip abduction pillows, specifically the use of a hip abduction pillow after hip surgery. Although this is not to be used as your primary source of treatment, it is a useful tool that might be offered by a doctor or can be requested by the patient.

A hip abduction pillow is a soft but firm foam pillow that is placed between the thighs and strapped onto the patient's legs while they are in a resting position. This aids in keeping the body stable and prevents an abducting motion that could cause pain or further injury post-surgery. 

Healing from any injury can be a long and grueling process, but a hip abduction pillow is one of many ways you can promote healing. That being said, it should be noted that although there are some clear benefits of using this pillow, it also comes with its fair share of risks.

Who Uses Hip Abduction Pillows

The most common use of abduction pillows is for patients who go through surgery and do not need to take special precautions. Hip precautions include movements that should be avoided after hip surgery in order to prevent further injury or pain at the surgery site and the surrounding muscles, joints, cartilage, and ligaments. 

Two of the most common surgeries in which patients find themselves using a hip abduction pillow for healing are total hip replacement and open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). Depending on the type of surgery you have undergone, hip precautions may be standard, lasting 6 weeks, or extreme, lasting a lifetime. Either way, if you will be using the abduction pillow, it will typically be directly following surgery.

How to Use a Hip Abduction Pillow

Before using a hip abduction pillow, it is important to understand the design of the device. These pillows are typically triangular in shape in order to naturally fit the shape of a patient's inner thigh area. The pillow also has two sets of straps near the top and the bottom. 

A hip abduction pillow is used by completing the following steps. 

1. Place the pillow between your legs with the narrow end of the pillow pointing toward your upper body and the wider end pointing toward your ankles. Your legs should comfortably fit into the contours of the pillow.

2. Ask a caregiver to fasten the straps around your legs on both ends of the pillow.

3. The caregiver should then tighten the straps so that they are secured but comfortable enough to avoid irritation.

It is important to note that your doctor will most likely provide you with a prescribed angle for your hips based on how far they should and should not stretch. This should be taken into account when placing your abduction pillow between your legs.

Benefits of Hip Abduction Pillows

A hip abduction pillow may not target pain relief in the same way medication does, and it may not provide as much stabilization as fitted braces. However, it is a simple and accessible way to facilitate the overall healing process. A major cause of concern for patients who have just undergone an invasive hip surgery is the possibility of uncontrolled movement that can lead to a slower healing process, increased pain, and further injury. 

A hip abduction pillow under your hips makes it easier to control the movements of your lower body by prohibiting the abduction of your hips. This is also helpful to patients who may experience anxiety around sleeping due to the fear of accidentally making a movement that could cause them pain or delay healing. The pillow gives patients peace of mind.

Another notable benefit of an abduction pillow is its accessibility to patients. Depending on where you purchase or receive your pillow, it can be found at quite a low cost. This is great for patients who want to utilize healing tools but are unable to spend large amounts of money on costly interventions.

Risks of Using a Hip Abduction Pillow

Like many other medical treatments, hip abduction pillows come with their share of risks and precautions that should be understood by patients before use. Some of the factors you should consider before deciding to use a hip abduction pillow include:

  • Patients with sensitive skin or current wounds and irritation in the area where the pillow will be used should avoid using it during the healing process. The pillow requires the use of straps and prolonged wear that can cause irritation to sensitive skin or worsen areas that are already experiencing irritation.
  • It is important to change your position every two hours. This action will help patients prevent blood clots, stiffness, and discomfort. Before shifting your position, be sure to talk to your doctor about safe rolls that will help you move without causing yourself harm. The pillow may be worn during the changing of positions but should be checked to make sure that the straps are tightly fastened to the legs to prevent any shifting of the pillow.
  • Since a hip abduction pillow will be worn close to your skin for a long period of time, it is important to keep both your skin and the pillow clean. This will help prevent any build-up of sweat, dust, and other debris that could irritate the skin.
  • Follow the hip abduction pillow instructions provided by your doctor. Light, prescribed exercise will also aid in the healing process, as it will prevent blood clots and stiffness and begin mobilizing your affected joints, muscles, and ligaments so that they are ready for use.

Additionally, studies have found that hip abduction pillows do not decrease acute hip dislocation rates. This is not to say that it increased the rate, however. Instead, recent studies have found little to no correlation.

The Takeaway

Hip abduction pillows can be offered by doctors to patients who have recently undergone surgery affecting their hips and surrounding areas. These pillows are used as an extra precautionary measure to provide patients with a way to control the movement of their lower body, stabilize their hips at a prescribed angle, and provide peace of mind to patients who worry about unwanted movements during sleep. 

Although it is not a required method included in the healing process and has not been shown to decrease the possibility of acute hip dislocation, it is a cost-effective, easy-to-use, accessible measure that can be taken by many patients who wish to exhaust all of their resources to ensure a pleasant and smooth recovery.

Show Sources

Sources:
Acta Orthopedica Belgica: "Hip abduction pillow use following total hip arthroplasty does not decrease acute hip dislocation rates"
Clinical Do's and Dont's: "Applying a hip abduction pillow"
Orthopedic Nursing: "Positioning the Patient with an Abductor Pillow"
Royal College of Surgeons of England: "Abduction Pillow Technique"
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: "Hip Precautions"
The Nursing Assistant' 2005 Ed.2005 Edition: "Chapter 16: The Muskuloskeletal System and Related Care"

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