Early Recovery From Hip Replacement Surgery

I was not entirely sure what to expect in terms of recovery. My surgeon warned me that the first two weeks would be a write-off, and I should expect to feel tired and unable to concentrate on anything for very long. After this, he predicted I would gradually have more energy and vim.

The hospitals’s pre-op education session was excellent for generic information and tips, but every specific question about recovery was answered with a catch-all reference to the rules with an acknowledgment that everyone is different and will be advised by their surgeon on what they can and cannot do.

The recovery information was definitely pitched at the most cautious level for the lowest common denominator. We were left with the impression that we were all facing the same 12-week endurance test.

And yet, looking round the room, I was struck by how different we all were in terms of size, age, general health and underlying fitness. Amongst others, there was a very young, healthy-looking chap in his early 40s, there was a wheezing octogenarian facing a third joint replacement operation, there was an older, very obese man in a wheelchair who was not able to walk. Although we were all facing the same operation – total hip replacement – it was simply counter-intuitive to believe that we would each experience an identical 12-week recovery given the variety of our start points.

Confession time. I am a devoted Strictly Come Dancing fan. When it was announced that judge Craig Revel Horwood would be having his hip replaced in late October, I became more interested in watching the progress of his hip action than the dancing. Who could fail to be impressed by the incredible speed and success of his recovery? Each week I was on Craig-Watch noting each bit of progress:

Week 1 – he stayed in his glittery, high-backed judge’s chair and looked a bit peaky. He was dressed, upright and coherent which I took as a good sign.

Week 2 – he joined the judge’s upstairs for “Len’s lens” using elbow crutches and sitting on a cushion with his operated leg out straight. He didn’t say much, but was clearly mobile and with it.

Week 3 – he was down to a diamanté-encrusted stick and still sitting on a cushion. He took part fully in the chat and seemed to have all his acerbic faculties back in place.

Week 4 – he was walking aid-free and was generally more animated and mobile throughout the show.

Week 5 – dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, he whirled and twirled his way across the dance floor as part of the opening sequence before taking his seat. Astonishing.

Craig Revel Horwood set the hip replacement recovery bar very high and seemed to make a mockery of the doom-laden warnings. It was my fondest wish to breeze through my post-op experience in exactly the same style. Well, maybe minus the orange tan and definitely less jazz-handsy.

I know it’s obvious, but the reality of recovery is completely individual. It’s probably not much use comparing yourself to others as their situation may be very different to yours. When I was still in hospital, many of my fellow Ward 5 inhabitants had had surgery many days and in some cases weeks before me, and yet many were quite bed-bound and seemed, to my ill-informed eye, slow to recover. There may be all manner of reasons, complications and individual experiences of pain that affect individual progress.

I do count myself as one of the lucky ones, having been set free on day 3 post-op, complication-free, and with a little bag of paracetamol and codeine tablets to take every six hours as needed.

I was thrilled to be home. My first experiences were very humbling, and it came as a massive shock to me (and my family) just how much help I needed at first. As soon as I got home, I managed to climb the stairs and then required a two-hour nap to recover from my exertions.

I quickly settled into a routine for the first week, but continued to be surprised by just how tired and debilitated I felt. Getting up every hour or so and promenading around a bit on my crutches was satisfying, but exhausting. I did feel quite vulnerable particularly if no one was home with me. I took to carrying my phone with me and making sure that friends with keys to my house were on standby in case of emergency. I was particularly concerned about falling or dropping my crutches and being stranded. I certainly didn’t feel sociable and found it too tiring to sit and chat with others for longer than 20 minutes or so.

And despite feeling so tired, the long, deep, restorative sleep I craved stubbornly eluded me. I slept in two or three-hour bursts with uncomfortable, achy stretches in between. My leg was still a bit swollen for the first week, and the golden rule of sleeping on your back didn’t help. After a few hours of remaining fixed in this position, my leg would begin to ache – around my knee and the outside of my thigh – badly enough to wake me and then to keep me awake.

I am hugely grateful to my lovely family who have looked after me superbly well and with great patience. I have tried to become a patient patient and to express my sincere gratitude for the many kindnesses Mike, Harry and Annabel do me on a daily basis. However, I have once or twice, felt really ratty and frustrated with my limitations. It is hard to wait for your body to catch up with what you want to be doing.

I am now at two weeks post-op, and, although I don’t feel back to normal, things have improved significantly. I am able to walk around easily and can manage on one crutch. Stairs do not hold the fearsome power to exhaust, and I no longer need a nap after climbing them. The District Nurse came to remove my dressing and to check my incision. She was very impressed with the “very small, very neat” incision and its healing. I celebrated by having a shower which felt marvellous. I am able to concentrate better and can visit with friends and family. Sleeping is still uncomfortable and patchy, but I am stringing along slightly longer bursts of sleep.

These were my week one and two recovery life-savers which I commend to you:

1. Ice packs – ah, the bliss of an ice pack on your operated leg is lovely. A friend recommended frozen peas as more malleable and less leaky than ice cubes. I have stuck with ice, but can confirm this requires at least two zip-lock bags, following an unfortunate but comical incident involving a leak, a hair dryer and an electric under blanket.

2. Pillows galore – have lots of pillows to help you sleep. I have two large bolster cushions and two normal pillows to keep me more upright. Mimicking a hospital bed makes the forced stay on your back slightly easier to sustain. I also have a firm pillow on its side for between my ankles to prevent me turning or crossing my legs. I will be so glad when I’m allowed to move around again in my sleep!

3. Have a table by the bedside with: drinks, painkillers, mobile/iPad charger, snacks and blood thinning injections all to hand.

4. Have a sturdy bin by the foot of the bed to hold crutches, the helping hand/grabber and shoehorn. Ideal for preventing your aids from falling to the ground. Have another bin by the toilet to make sure your crutches are always handy.

5. Set your phone alarms to remind you when to take tablets and injections. I found this important in the first week when I was napping a bit and could not remember when I last took a paracetamol. I became more sophisticated by assigning an apt song for each alarm. The time for painkillers is heralded by a rousing chorus of “Paradise” by Coldplay, and the loathsome, painful injection time is preceded by “Do The Bad Thing” from the Arctic Monkeys. I have not discovered a secret to pass on to help with the injections. My stomach is horribly bruised. Even after two weeks I have no idea why some injections are hideously painful and bruising and why some are only very painful and slightly bruising. My technique must be rubbish, but so far nobody else is interested in trying to do better.

6. Keep your mobile with you at all times, particularly if you are on your own. This is important if you have a fall and for peace of mind if you feel a bit unsteady.

7. Use travel mugs with a lid for hot drinks. The lid keeps the drink hot for longer and makes transport less leaky. I credit this tip to my friend from Ward 5 who is very inventive and creative. She has designed a tool belt for her Zimmer frame from which she can hang the handles of three travel mugs and assorted other items with ease!

8. If you build a rapport with fellow patients in hospital, exchange numbers so you can text once at home. I found it a great help to keep in touch with others going through the early stages of recovery at the same time as me. There is no pressure to reply, but we are able to check in, to swap ridiculous stories and to blow off steam.

9. If you have an iPad or a laptop, load it up with iPlayer downloads or, if you have it, Sky Go programmes. For me, this has been an absolute lifesaver, particularly given my intermittent sleep patterns. Whoever invented this technology deserves a medal and eternal thanks from house-bound, immobile insomniacs like me. Before my operation, I thought I had been rather clever in timing my recovery to coincide with The Ashes. The England performances have been so dire that had I been watching as planned, I might have relapsed. Anyway, Sky Go very thoughtfully provides countless films and box sets as an alternative to Ashes depression. I have enjoyed The Thick of It (absolute genius), Rescue Me, The Sopranos and The Wire so far. Thank you, Sky Go!

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24 Responses to Early Recovery From Hip Replacement Surgery

  1. Thanks for sharing this nice information with us.This information found very useful.The knee klinik provides the best treatment for your hip pain problems.visit us http://www.kneeandjointsurgery.com/

  2. Paul hutchings says:

    Hi. Not sure if you realised that CRH had hip revision not a prosthesis in the femur. He still retained the femur ball. To gauge his recovery as a comparison to your total hip replacement recovery time makes no sense. Yes, he recovered well but I’m guessing with the top professor surgeon in the country performing his Op & the professional rehab people he then enlisted after does make some difference. Just felt it worth mentioning.
    I’ m 2.5 weeks post THR op. Doing well & with continued progress looking to be crutch free in next 1.5 weeks. Paul, Essex, 12/08/2017

  3. Melody says:

    I am 18 weeks post op and although back to work and gym etc I still feel incredibly tired. My upper leg muscles are tired even though I have been exercising regularly. Maybe it could be that I’m still uncomfortable in bed as my pelvis is twisted still. I was born with dysplacia so have one straight, operated on, leg but the other is still not in the socket correctly but will be by the beginning of September as my next op is due then. My main thing is tiredness, I’m 64 – any thoughts out there?

  4. Andy Kidd says:

    I am six days post op. This blog has been really helpful in giving a range of experiences that I can identify with and be on the lookout for, particularly the sleeping issues.

    Info. and guidance for post op. practice and experience by my health team consisted of a couple of one to one’s and a lot of leaflets, one of which guided me to this site. As this is my first operation at age 64 years, I have had no concept of what to expect. (The words register but have little meaning.) Reading about other people’s experiences pre-op. has been useful, but it has only been post-op. when reality strikes that the “ah yes, that happens to me too” bring comfort and reassurance.

    • Dear Andy
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I am really delighted if the blog offered you some useful help. I understand completely that the words only sink in when they have some significance for you at a particular point in time! I do hope your recovery is progressing well and that you have turned the corner or are nearly there in terms of sleeping better. All good wishes for the future

  5. Janette says:

    i have just turned 50 and had a THR 5 days ago. Luckily it is half term and my 17 year old daughter is able to remove my TED socks before I shower and replace them again afterwards. I am a bit concerned as to how I will do it myself next week when she is back at school. I apparently have to wear them for the next 6 weeks. Any top tips?

    • Dear Janette
      Thank you very much for your comment and question. Apologies for the delay in replying. Those TED socks are a real nuisance! I confess I relied on family members to help rather than the sock-putter-on contraption which I think would have struggled with such an unforgiving material. As it’s now so many weeks on, I hope you found a solution and indeed have been able to say goodbye to the compression socks!
      All good wishes for your recovery

  6. Shelley says:

    4 weeks post surgery ( right hip anterior method)
    I am so tierd and weary most of the time.
    I have prob over done it as I peaked at 3 weeks,not using the crutches and almost acting as if I was back to normal.
    I am now finding I am paying for that spurt of energy etc and the thigh is painfull and feels tight around the cut area and my knee and shin are sore and have a yellow bruise on them
    Dr said the bruising below the wound to shin is due to gravity and the blood flow down the leg but when he explained what had gone on in the op I have a new respect for the healing process it’s all pretty confronting what we have been through.. its huge surgery and our torso is put under a big strain so we must expect repercussions.
    I too am a person who has never sat still and still work so I have been frustrated and I hate the loss of muscle tone but must trust this will pass and the joy of no hip pain will be a new life to enjoy
    Good luck to us all !

  7. Don Tomasco says:

    What a great blog. I was searching the net to look for some commonality in recovery. I am at 3 weeks and 2 days, and my PT says I am way ahead of the game. I am 54, had total hip replacement and was active before surgery so I was told this helped in my recovery. I am no longer needing my cane but I still use it late in the afternoon and evenings since I am taxed and I find myself developing ‘gimpy’ bad habits.

    I had anterior surgery and was out of the hospital that evening. I am still taking pain meds, but no longer in the morning (well, every now and then if I wake up REALLY sore), but I usually take two in the evening after work, then two before bed.

    Sleeping is a chore. I don’t find pain or soreness keeping me up, I just am having a hard time sleeping, but am quite sure this is just my body being pissed off at the doc for cutting on me.

    I gave up on in home health care when they were late to call me. I went to my PT who helped me after my rotator cuff surgery. Exercises and stretches with the PT (her plan) are based on the goals of the patient. My goals are to return to competition tennis as soon as possible, so we are on an aggressive plan, plus I am quite diligent with making sure I do my exercises daily. I go in for PT twice a week and she works different parts of my leg.

    My question to her yesterday was regarding still having days where I am SOOOO exhausted. Yesterday I could have stayed in bed all day, it was that bad. She told me (once again, I am a slow listener) that my body went through a lot of trauma and that being tired is normal, not to mention that I am really working my PT hard and thoroughly, which is reflected in my ‘more rapid’ recovery. She said that I can expect to have days like yesterday for AT LEAST 6-8 weeks. So, this was good to hear, since I tend to just think I am being a wimp when I am feeling tired.

    Now to read in these comments some similar things, well I don’t feel so alone. In fact, today is another one of those tired days. But I need to work, so I will recover later today.

    My added or supported advice to others reading this thread is to really work the PT hard.

    Also, I learned that being discharged from the hospital is 100% dependent on our ability to PEE. If we can’t, then they keep us in, since there is concern about potential kidney issues with this type of surgery and use of anesthesia and pain killers. I think this is NOT something the docs or staff will tell you, I guess they would like us to stay a night or two for ‘just in case’ supervision. The way I found out was being told that if I peed I could go home. Since I was already waking around the hospital corridor without my cane that afternoon, a nurse told me that drinking tea would help me pee. It worked, and I was out that night. I just don’t like hospitals. But the food was REALLY good there.

    So thanks to all of you. I feel better today knowing that my exhaustion and tiredness is normal.

  8. Very helpful info and warnings! Thank you… *invests in ear-plugs* TT 🙂

  9. Samantha Webster says:

    Dear Everyone, I am scheduled to have my hip replaced in September. I am only 49 but played sport to a high level for many years so basically knackered my joint. I am pretty apprehensive about going through with this operation based on the length of time the recovery takes and that improved mobility is not guaranteed – only pain reduction. I walk with a poor gait, take pain killers most days, have broken sleep now but still make myself walk at least an hour a day and do 1 hr of yoga a day, so I feel maybe despite my chronic experience with the hip, I may be in better shape than others pre op? Also has anyone heard of personal experiences with the AMIS approach in the north of England? I am very curious about this approach despite the wariness of many surgeons. Appreciate any thoughts for the bloggers. And Hippy Chick – thank you so much for creating this sight. 🙂

    • Dear Samantha
      It sounds like you are in great shape, and this is bound to assist with your recovery if you decide to go ahead. It may be worth talking over the pros and cons with your surgeon or GP. For me, becoming pain free was a fair trade for the long recovery period, but everyone is different. I would be very interested to hear more about experiences of the AMIS approach. All the best for reaching your decision. Take care.
      Best wishes

  10. Jenny says:

    I thought you wrote a great article, useful to others in the same situation, although as you say everyone is different. I am 3 weeks post op. Anterior approach THR. Iwas mobile from day1 and by day 3 could walk unaided. Fortunately I don’t have stairs. 2 days in hospital and lucky to have a great husband to take care of me. I would agree that sleep is the most difficult part of the recovery. For 2 weeks I got no sleep, tried the couch, the guest bed, a chair. Nothing worked. I decided to take the Vicodin at night. That helped a little. The PT comes to house every day and tells me everyone has this sleep problem. At week 3 he says things will be better and he is right. However, still feeling drained. I guess this is party due to anemia. Trying to eat lots of red meat. I was pretty for going into this surgery and had been exercising every day to strengthen muscles. This helped. I can tell you I spent hours searching the Internet for comfort ang guidance. I think I am one of the lucky ones but in the end we all recover.

    • Dear Jenny
      Thank you very much for your kind comments and apologies for the long delay in responding. It sounds like you had great support for your recovery and were well on the mend at 3 weeks post-op. I do hope the rest of your recovery has proceeded well and that the sleep problems are long in your past.
      Best wishes

  11. Suelivesonahill says:

    What a brilliant resource this web site is. I’m 5 days post surgery and I’m lucky in that, to date, I have had a text book recovery. I’m religiously trying to follow the physios advice but am faced with a steep incline to get from my house to a flat walking area. Having tackled this for the first time this morning the pain coming down hill (I lengthened my sticks a bit although i dont know if that’s right ?) has reduced me to tears. Am I being too ambitious ? Thanks for the blogs, they are so helpful.

    • Dear Sue
      Thank you so much for your comments about the blog. I am delighted that it was of use to you. Apologies for the delay in responding; I hope all has proceeded smoothly with your recovery and that you are getting up and down that hill pain free. You were commenting very soon after surgery, and I would guess that the pain you experienced may well have been the result of overdoing it. I do hope all is well and thank you again for commenting.
      Best wishes

  12. Michele Burton says:

    I am 5 days post op I have found your blog invaluable, from decision making to this point .
    I am finding the middle of the night a difficult time to manage my pain but I am hopeful that will improve soon.
    Thank you for taking time to post this blog.

    • Dear Shelly
      I am so pleased to hear that you found the blog useful and apologies for the long delay in replying. I hope by now you are sleeping every night like a top and all is well with your recovery.
      Best wishes

      • Michele Burton says:

        Thank you for your reply I am now nearly 6 months post op, I cannot believe how pain free and mobile I am. My life is mine again !
        I am very lucky I had excellent advice and care, your blog help me so much before the op and in the early days.
        Thank you x

  13. evelinamarie says:

    8 weeks post total hip replacement surgery for me. I live alone so spent two weeks in a nursing home. Everything you are sharing sounds pretty “normal” whatever “normal is for all of us. I still walk with a cane but have been pretty active. I own a small consulting firm so have been working with clients via email and by telephone. The last two weeks I have driven myself to my clients place of business and attended a few business related events. I’m off RX pain medication so I’m kind of achy and stiff in the morning and later in the day and normal every day activities still exhaust me. Napping each afternoon helps. The key to recovery is walking and exercise in my view. Short term recovery (where I’m at now) can fool you into thinking it’s almost over but it takes about six months for total recovery – remember, this is major surgery and you muscles and bone need time to fully heal from being dislocated and cut. Good luck to you!

    • Hi there
      Many thanks for your comments and wise words. Patience is the key in my experience, too. Very glad to hear that your recovery was proceeding as expected, and I very much hope all is well.
      Best wishes

  14. Pingback: Day 5: Long car journey home and what I can do when I get there | DA Hip Lady

  15. Heather Proctee says:

    Thought you would like to know Craig revel Horwood had a hip resurfacing operation with a very senior London surgeon.

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