Surgery to replace a worn-out hip joint is very common. The usual reason that someone has a hip replacement is because they have very painful arthritis in their hip. It is also sometimes done to treat a broken hip (hip fracture) but this depends on where the hip has broken.
How do I know if I need one?
This may seem a silly question but it is important to realise that a hip replacement is major surgery and so you should really only be considering it when you have run out of other options. A doctor can diagnose arthritis in your hip and they can tell you that a hip replacement in an option for treatment but only you can decide if the time is right for you.
Learn more about symptoms that might mean that you need a hip replacement.
How is it done?
A hip replacement is done under anaesthetic. Usually you are given a general anaesthetic, so you are completely asleep during the operation. It is also sometimes done under a spinal anaesthetic, which means you are awake but completely numb from the waist down. The operation itself takes about two hours. The surgeon will make a cut (incision) about 20-25 cm long usually down the outside of your thigh, although increasingly surgeons are using an incision in your groin. Then they cut out the part of your hip joint that is being replaced. The hip joint is a 'ball and socket' joint; sometimes it's the 'ball' that needs to be replaced, sometimes the 'socket', but usually it's both.
Once you've recovered from the effects of the anaesthetic you will be seen by a physiotherapist - usually the day after your operation. Your physiotherapist will help you to get back on your feet and show you exercises that you will need to do to strengthen your muscles. Most people are able to go home after three to five days. To begin with you will need crutches to walk with but you should be able to get rid of these (if you have been doing your exercises regularly) within four to six weeks. Normally you can be back to light work and be able to drive after about six weeks.
How long will my new joint last?
Most hip replacements last for 10, 15 or sometimes 20 years. How long yours lasts will depend a bit on how hard it has to work. Keeping your weight down and doing exercises to keep the muscles around your hip strong are really important.
A hip replacement isn't a minor operation and there are risks. How big the risk is for you will depend on how old you are, how fit you are and whether or not you have any other medical problems, such as diabetes or obesity.
Further reading and references
Primary Total Hip Replacement: A Guide to Best Practice; British Orthopaedic Association (2012)
Arthritis of the hip (end stage) - hip replacement (total) and resurfacing arthroplasty; NICE Technology Appraisal Guidance, February 2014
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