The Complete Guide to Hip Replacement Recovery: nutrition, rest, sex, driving, travelling

Written by: Professor Paul Lee
Published: | Updated: 20/02/2019
Edited by: Nicholas Howley

A hip replacement is a life-changing operation. It can significantly improve your quality of life and get you back to the things you enjoyed. Owing to its success, it has now become a routine operation in the 21st century. If you are considering hip replacement, it’s important to know how you can support yourself during the recovery period after the surgery.

Here are some practical tips from Professor Paul Lee, to help your successful recovery from hip surgery.

Getting prepared for your operation

Before your surgery, ask your friends and family to help you rearrange your home so that you can access everything you will need.

Reorganise your kitchen and bathroom so that important things are at waist-level instead of the cupboard below.

When you arrive home after your surgery, you’re going to need help with household chores like cleaning, cooking and shopping. Make arrangements with friends and family in advance, so they can pitch in where you need help.

You might also want to consider using aids like a perching stool, to help with moving around and completing tasks. This type of stool has a seat that slopes and can come with armrests. It is not an essential tool thanks to modern surgical and recovery techniques, but it can make daily tasks far less strenuous, such as food preparation in the kitchen.

After the operation: looking after your new hip

Keeping it cool

You will experience pain around your surgical scar following surgery, and it will be different to the arthritic pain that you are used to. The good news is that this surgical pain will go in a few weeks.

Ice and cold packs are very useful to reduce surgical pain and swelling, but be careful not to overdo it, as it can cause “cold burns”. I would recommend the use of a commercially available device such as the PhysioLab machine to achieve this in a better control fashion.

Keeping it dry

Daily washes and showers are important to keep up with personal hygiene. The key is to keep the wound dry and not disturbed. If at all possible keep the dressing dry and avoid changing the dressing until after two weeks. Your dressing was applied in a sterile condition in theatre, so keep that seal for as long as possible.

During surgery, I tend to use glue and mash to close wounds when possible, as this will form a complete watertight environment and patient will not have any worry when showering.

Wound check

Be sure to monitor your wound after surgery. Depending on your surgeon, you might have staples or suture on the skin. If you have staples, they need to be removed between 2-4 weeks. If you have absorbable sutures please also get your wound checked between 2-3 weeks, and if there are any excess sutures or knots please have them removed.

I tend to use a special suture that does not require knots when it is possible, as this type of suture gives the strongest closure without the need for removal. Even then, it is still advisable to get your wound checked.

Nutrition

Healthy eating and drinking is important to your overall health, but after any surgery the body has to heal. A varied diet plays a vital role in this healing process. This means one that contains all important nutrients, including protein, fatscarbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

For the initial two weeks following surgery I would recommend the use of salt, chocolate and bananas in this recovery period. Yes, chocolate! It will help to replace the minerals and provide you with the energy to recovery from the surgery. Of course, be careful to monitor your blood sugar carefully if you are diabetic. After two weeks you can resume your normal healthy balanced diet.

Finally, don’t attempt weight loss during your recovery period following hip surgery – it’s more important to get the nutrients you need to recover well.

Rest and recovery

It’s often tempting immediately after surgery to stay still in the hospital bed. Please don’t! Wiggle around in bed and be sure to mess up the bed sheet. When you feel the sensation back in your legs, ring the buzzer and ask to take your new hip for a test drive. The sooner you put weight on your new hip, the quicker you will feel less pain.

While it’s important to rest to allow yourself time to recover, it’s also important to get moving too. This is because if you stay still for too long, you can become stiff which could hinder your recovery – meaning it will take longer.

Returning to daily life

Going back to work

How long this will be depends largely on how you feel, as it’s most important to allow yourself enough time to recover fully before returning to your regular duties. Up to three months is expected for rehabilitation following your operation. If you have a physically demanding job, your return to work may take longer.

How you travel to work is also a factor to consider. It might be possible to explore a different way of working to aid your recovery and a smoother return to work.

This planning can be carried out before your operation, to give you added peace of mind and help you make the most of your recovery time.

Sleep and sex

Good sleep habits and a comfortable bed will help support your recovery. You do not have to sleep flat on your back all the time, but be careful not to over twist your new hip.

Sex is a normal part of life, but please hold off for the first six weeks in your recovery to allow the tissues to heal and the hip to bed in. After this time, and when you feel ready, take things slowly. Your new hip is in a stable and strong position to take on any challenge. Remember to consider the position of your hip to avoid muscle strain, injury or dislocation of the hip.

When can I drive?

After your operation you might be on a lot of painkillers, such as codeine, for the first few weeks. You should not drive when you are on strong painkillers, and in any case, you may not be insured to drive in the first few weeks following surgery.

However, after 5-6 weeks, you should be able to drive again. Bear in mind that your reflexes will be slower – so it’s important to build up your confidence again gradually and make sure you can do the most important things, such as performing an emergency stop.

When can I fly?

Generally speaking, you should avoid flying for the first six weeks after surgery.

Once you’re ready to fly, if you have a metal hip replacement you’ll find that this sets off the metal detectors in security. However, these days, hip replacements are so common that every airport has a procedure in place to manage this. You should tell a security official about your hip and they’ll be able to make sure you go through security without problems.

Read more: Hip replacement types

By Professor Paul Lee
Orthopaedic surgery

Professor Paul Lee is a double board-certified consultant orthopaedic surgeon practising in Lincoln, Nottingham, and Leicester. Specialising in treating knee and hip problems, including hip replacements and knee cartilage replacement, he also has expertise in sport and regenerative surgery.

After receiving his medical degree from the University of Cardiff, Wales, Professor Lee continued with higher surgical training, becoming a certified Member of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine (MFSEM) and Fellow in the European (FEBOT) and UK (FRCS) Trauma and Orthopaedics boards. He completed a PhD in medical engineering and has conducted research into regenerative medicine, which has helped him to treat sports injuries, including a number of UK Premiership footballers. He is now Medical Director of MSK Doctors and he continues to develop new treatments at the cutting edge of his field in his capacity as Director of Research and Cell Therapy Lead for the Lincolnshire NHS trust.

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