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What is Hip Replacement Surgery?

Hip replacement is a surgical procedure to replace parts of the hip joint that are damaged by disease or injury. It is most often done to treat arthritis, a common condition that causes stiffness and pain in the joints. Surgery is used only after other, less invasive treatments have failed to work.

The type of hip replacement you receive is based on your age and the extent of damage to your hip. The hip joint has two parts: the femoral head, or hip ball, and the acetabulum, or hip socket. The hip ball is located on the upper end of the femur (thigh bone), and the hip socket is part of the pelvis. Depending on whether one or both parts require replacement, you may need one of the following procedures:

  • Partial hip replacement, which is generally recommended in the case of hip fractures or other hip injuries. If you are having a partial hip replacement, only the hip ball will be replaced.
  • Total hip replacement, which is often used to treat the hip joint when it has become damaged due to arthritis. Both the hip socket and hip ball are replaced.
  • Hip resurfacing, which is usually performed for younger patients. A hip resurfacing procedure reshapes the hip ball and only replaces its surface. This preserves more bone and makes future surgeries easier. If you are having a partial hip resurfacing, only the hip ball is resurfaced and replaced. If you are having a total hip resurfacing, the hip socket will be replaced as well.

During hip replacement surgery, an incision is made along the side of the hip. The surgeon may access the joint directly through this incision, or by using small tools and a lighted tube called an arthroscope to see and treat the joint. The diseased tissue is removed, and the bones are smoothed out and fitted with metal ends. The metal pieces may be cemented in place, or they may have a porous structure that encourages bone to grow into them and hold them securely. A smooth plastic cushion is placed between the two bones to replace the cartilage and allow the joint to move freely.

Hip replacement surgery takes one to two hours, and afterwards you may stay in the hospital for several days. When you go home, you will have to use a cane, walker, or crutches at first. You will likely have physical therapy to improve your ability to move with your new hip. After the first few weeks, light exercise such as bike riding or swimming will help you heal, but certain actions, such as climbing stairs or bending over at the waist, may be difficult at first. It will take several weeks before you can drive or return to work. Full recovery may take six to 12 months.