A total hip replacement is a surgical procedure where the ball and socket of the hip joint are replaced with artificial material. The ball at the end of the femur and the socket in the pelvis are replaced with a ball and cup made of metal, plastic, ceramic or a combination. An orthopaedic surgeon performs a total hip replacement, and the operation takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half. The surgeon cuts into the hip, removes the damaged bone and inserts the artificial joint, fixing it to the bone.

Why is a total hip replacement done?

A total hip replacement is usually only considered for people whose hip joints have been severely damaged, most often due to osteoarthritis, trauma or other joint diseases. A total hip replacement is recommended only after non-surgical interventions such as exercise, weight loss and pain medications have been trialled, and when the condition significantly limits a person’s ability to perform activities of daily life.

How do I know if I need a total hip replacement?

An orthopaedic surgeon will decide when a total hip replacement is the best intervention for you. Your physiotherapist or GP may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon after trying other treatments (such as exercise, weight loss and pain medications).

How can physiotherapy help following a total hip replacement?

Physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation after a total hip replacement. You will see a physiotherapist during your stay in hospital. They will teach you exercises to do while you are in bed, and while sitting and standing, to ensure you are working the muscles around the hip and thigh. They will also teach you how to get in and out of bed, how to walk with a frame or crutches, and give you precautions and advice for at home. If needed, they will teach you how to walk up and down stairs.

The physiotherapist will give you exercises to continue at home. It may be recommended that you keep seeing a physiotherapist after you go home, or attend an exercise class or hydrotherapy (exercise in the water) class. Alternatively you may be asked to continue with the exercises and gradually increase your walking on your own at home.

How effective is physiotherapy after a total hip replacement?

Studies have shown that people who complete exercises after a total hip replacement may have significant improvement in functional activities of daily living, walking, quality of life, muscle strength and joint range of motion compared with people who do not.

What can I do at home?

The physiotherapist who sees you in hospital will give you specific exercises to continue with each day at home. In addition, you should take regular walks each day, gradually increasing the distance. Returning to work and sport should be done only after consulting with your physiotherapist and orthopaedic surgeon.

How long until I feel better?

Recovery from a total hip replacement varies from person to person. Most people will need to use crutches for 4–6 weeks following surgery. You will be able to walk without crutches when you can walk without a limp, pain or swelling, and are confident you can manage on your own.

An artificial hip never feels quite the same as a normal hip, and it is important to look after it in the long term.