If you or a loved one are scheduled for hip replacement surgery, know you are not alone; every year, hundreds of thousands of people in the US undergo this common procedure. Planning your hip replacement recovery can make the difference between a smooth road to wellness and months of difficulty. Here are the tips you need to ensure a successful hip replacement surgery.
Manage Expectations in Advance
Any major surgery will go more easily if you know what to expect in advance. Your surgeon’s office should provide you with instructions for before and after surgery, but if something is not clear, ask.
Common areas of confusion include:
- What medications, if any, should be discontinued before surgery (e.g., blood thinners or anticoagulants)?
- How late can you eat and drink the night before surgery?
- What pre-operative tests do you need (blood tests, electrocardiogram, stress test, etc.)?
- How long will you be in the hospital after surgery?
- How long does it take to heal from hip replacement surgery?
- How soon will you be able to walk, climb stairs, shower, drive, have sex, and perform household chores?
- Will the surgery be painful?
- How will your life change after surgery–will activities be limited and will your artificial joint present problems with medical imaging or airport security?
Make sure you get all your information in writing and make note of the answers to any questions so that you don’t forget.
Prepare Your Home
One thing you will learn is that your home should be ready before going to the hospital for your surgery. Based on your surgeon’s instructions for aftercare, your baseline health, and your home’s layout, consider the following suggestions.
Eliminate Tripping Dangers
Remove anything that could present a tripping hazard, such as rugs and mats. Rearrange furniture too if necessary. Your gait will be altered, and you will be less steady on your feet for a while after surgery. You don’t want to injure yourself and wind up back in the hospital.
Plan for One-Level Living Initially
Think about how you will handle living on one level for a while, since stairs may be out of the picture initially. If you are reliant on a walker or crutches, you may have to wait a week or so to climb stairs. Therefore, can you sleep in a downstairs bedroom or on a pull-out sofa?
What about getting in and out of your home? Do you have stairs leading to all your entrances? Your surgeon may allow you to climb up to a few stairs but not an entire flight.
Create a “Recovery Zone”
While you will be encouraged to get moving very quickly after surgery (see below), you will still be tired for a while and may be on medication that makes you drowsy. It’s ideal if you can create a home environment where all your necessities are close to one spot.
Think about how you could arrange your “recovery zone” for the greatest comfort, with your television, your pastimes, and a place to sit with your legs elevated. Is there a bathroom nearby?
Ready the Bathroom
Speaking of the bathroom, yours will probably need some changes, at least for the time being. You will need an elevated toilet seat, which you can achieve in one of two ways: buy or rent a detachable apparatus or install a permanent elevated toilet. The latter is recommended long term for patients who have had hip replacement surgery.
Also, you will need to rent or purchase a shower chair for the weeks immediately following surgery. Take a look at whether grab bars might be necessary as well.
Eat for Healing
Your hip replacement recovery will be greatly improved if you eat healthily after surgery. While it’s easy to eat junk and fast food because of the convenience factor, fresh homemade food will be better for your body.
When you’re preparing your home for the post-op period, make sure everything in your kitchen will be easily reachable (not too high or too low). Consider putting a high chair or stool in the kitchen, so you can sit if necessary while working at the stove or sink.
Stock your refrigerator and pantry in advance. If possible, chop up salad ingredients and bake dinners you can freeze, so you have less work when you come home from the hospital. Anticipate that you might feel a little nauseous at first from the anesthesia or pain medication (see below), so have some foods that are easy on the stomach. Another option is to sign up for a meal delivery service or hire someone to help for a few weeks in the kitchen.
Find Help for the Early Recovery Period
You may find you need help with more than just cooking and the dishes after your hip replacement surgery. Make a list of all the things you do for yourself in a week, including:
- Household cleaning (tidying, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing, etc.)
- Gardening and yard maintenance (including sidewalks and driveway)
- Watering indoor plants
- Shopping and other errands
- Getting the mail
- Banking and paying bills
- Caring for pets
- Laundry and ironing
You will probably need someone to assist with these tasks, at least for the first few weeks after surgery. Do you have a family member who can help? Otherwise, you should consider hiring someone who can take on as many tasks as possible.
Depending on your age and ability, you may also need help with basic personal care and tending to your surgical wound. If you have other pre-existing health issues, it’s probably best to hire a nursing assistant for those jobs. The benefit of this kind of help is they can also help with managing your medications.
Have a Plan for Pain
There is no way around it–hip replacement surgery is painful in the period right after your operation. The first day or so, you will likely be a little out of it and full of pain medication. But by the third day, you will be in pain, as your body mobilizes a natural inflammatory response to your surgery. So, it’s vital to have a plan for pain mapped out in advance.
Your surgeon should give you a prescription for pain medication immediately after the surgery. Be sure to get this filled in advance, so you have the medication ready when you come home from the hospital. If any of your healthcare providers tell you to take the medication on a specific schedule, stick to it. You want to stay ahead of the pain, rather than letting it creep up on you and trying to beat it back with drugs.
The drugs that are given for post-op hip replacement pain are typically narcotics, however, opioids with very sedating effects. They will make you sleepy, so prepare for that. They can also have a constipating effect, so when you get your prescription filled, pick up an over-the-counter stool softener as well.
Most importantly, narcotics are highly addictive, even with routine use, so talk to your surgeon about minimizing the number of refills. See if you can transition to over-the-counter medications like naproxen, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin (aka NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Other ways to help manage pain include:
- Icing (initially)
- Heat (later)
- Rest and elevating the legs
- Homeopathic arnica for swelling and bruising
- TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Not overdoing it after surgery
- Distracting yourself with TV, puzzles, books, etc.
- Following a program of exercise and physical therapy
If, after a few weeks, your post-op pain feels unmanageable to you, consult with your surgeon. It could be that something is wrong (see below), so you don’t want to let it go on for too long.
Get Moving ASAP
Unlike in days past, hip replacement recovery nowadays involves patients getting up and about right away. You will probably be encouraged to stand up and move the day after surgery. As challenging as this might be, it’s a key to a successful and speedy recovery.
You will start out standing and taking a few steps to the hallway and back while still in the hospital. After that, your doctor will instruct you about adding a few minutes each day, until you become more mobile. At first you will use a walker, but eventually, you will graduate to a cane and then freedom.
As well as helping with your hip mobility and strength, moving around right after surgery serves another purpose. It helps keep your circulation moving to prevent the formation of blood clots. A blood clot can migrate elsewhere in the body, causing fatal events like a pulmonary embolism.
Your doctor will look for these signs that you are ready to be discharged from the hospital:
- You can get out of bed.
- You can go to the bathroom.
- You are eating and drinking normally.
- You can walk with the help of a walker, crutches, or cane.
- You are ready to begin home exercises.
- Your pain is under control.
- You understand your post-operative limitations and instructions.
Know What’s Normal After Surgery
Your instructions for leaving the hospital should include what to watch out for as you heal. Your pain should diminish over time, so eventually you can ease off pain medication. Your mobility and strength should increase daily.
Your incision should heal, with no redness, pus, or other signs of infection, like a bad odor. If you feel like you are not healing properly or that your incision site may be infected, contact your doctor right away. There are rare instances of both external and internal infection with hip replacement surgery.
Follow These Extra Tips and Tricks
Hip replacement recovery takes roughly 10 to 16 weeks for most people. That can feel like a long haul if you’re ill-prepared for recovery. Here are some extra tips and tricks to help you:
- Buy a “sock donner” and an extra-long shoehorn to help you put on your footwear since you won’t be permitted to bend more than 90 degrees at the waist for weeks after surgery.
- Slip-on shoes with a rubber sole for traction, like felt or rubber clogs, can make life easier.
- Long-handled shower brushes can likewise help when you can’t bend.
- To pick up items on the ground, get a robot arm-type reacher (handy even once you’re healed).
- Look for a “hip kit:” a collection of items like a sock donner and toilet elevator sold together by medical supply companies.
- Since moving around will be more difficult at first, keep extras of items you need frequently, like reading glasses or tissues, around the house in handy spots (coffee table, nightstand, etc.).
- If you need your hands for a walker, crutches, or cane, get a cross-shoulder bag to carry items from one place to another.
Consider Permanent Help
For some people, going home after the hospital simply isn’t an option. They don’t have the help they need to recover properly, or maybe their home isn’t set up right for post-op living.
Hip replacement surgery can be an excellent time to take a look at the living situation for you or a loved one. If hip replacement recovery is a challenge, it may reveal ongoing lifestyle issues that need to be addressed. How long can you keep maintaining your own house and yard, and how long do you want to?
An assisted living facility can be a welcome solution. Even for seniors who can continue to live independently, assisted living offers companionship, security, and amenities not found living alone. At Park Terrace Senior Living, for example, residents can take advantage of many resort-like benefits, including:
- Trained nurses and caregivers
- Three included meals per day
- Housekeeping, laundry, and maintenance assistance
- Happy hours and social activities
- Transportation to appointments and nearby shopping
- Utilities, free local calls, high-speed Internet, and premium cable
- On-site security 24/7
- Medical alert pendant
- Fitness studio, tennis courts, walking paths, and two swimming pools
Don’t need that much care? Check out our Independent Living program, which provides many of the same amenities at a lower tier of care.
Contact Park Terrace Senior Living today to find out more about how our facilities can help you or a family member with their hip replacement recovery and life with a new hip. Hip replacement may just be the motivation you need to find the perfect scenario: vacation-style worry-free living in a wonderful climate and a community of friendly older adults.