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Patient education: Total hip replacement (arthroplasty) (Beyond the Basics)

Greg A Erens, MD
Section Editor
Daniel E Furst, MD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH
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Normally, the hip functions as a “ball-and-socket” joint. The top of the thigh (femur) bone (ball) fits into a part of the pelvis called the acetabulum (socket), allowing the joint to move smoothly in multiple directions (figure 1). Total hip replacement is a surgical procedure that replaces the hip joint with artificial parts (called prostheses). (See "Total hip arthroplasty".)

The most common cause of hip joint deterioration is osteoarthritis; other possible causes include inflammatory arthritis (eg, rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis), hip disorders of infancy and childhood, osteonecrosis (avascular necrosis), and trauma.

This article will discuss total hip replacement surgery. A review of other treatment options for arthritis is available separately. (See "Patient education: Osteoarthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Psoriatic arthritis (Beyond the Basics)".)


Total hip replacement is only considered when you have tried and failed more conservative treatments, yet you continue to have significant pain, stiffness, or problems with the function of your hip.

Total hip replacement may be performed on adults with a deteriorated hip. However, the replacement parts can break down over time, and healthcare providers generally recommend delaying hip replacement until it is absolutely necessary.


While total hip replacement can be helpful under the right circumstances, you should only consider it after a discussion of the risks, benefits, and alternatives with a healthcare provider.

Nonsurgical treatment — Nonsurgical treatment methods are initially recommended for people with hip problems due to osteoarthritis or other conditions. Nonsurgical treatments for people with osteoarthritis include:

Weight loss or maintenance of a healthy weight

Physical therapy

Use of an assistive device (such as a cane or walker)

Pain-relieving medications

Glucocorticoid (steroid) injection into the painful joint

People with inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) may benefit from a treatment regimen of antirheumatic or other medications. (See "Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)".)

Surgical alternatives — There are a few surgical alternatives to total hip replacement. Surgical alternatives to hip replacement, such as hip fusion or osteotomy, may be considered in people who are very young or in whom a hip replacement may not be durable enough to last for many years and/or may not withstand an active lifestyle. Total hip resurfacing is another option for younger patients. The best surgical procedure depends upon the reasons for which the joint deteriorated. More information about surgical alternatives to hip replacement is available separately. (See "Total hip arthroplasty".)


Total hip replacement is performed in an operating room after you are given general or regional (epidural or spinal) anesthesia. The surgical approach used will be determined by your surgeon and is typically a single incision along the posterior (rear), lateral (side), or anterior (front) aspect of the hip. Less invasive hip replacement surgery techniques, which use smaller incisions and specialized instruments, are often used.

The type of prosthesis used depends upon the needs of the particular patient and the surgeon performing the procedure. There are a variety of types of prosthetic surfaces, including metal-on-plastic, metal-on-metal, and ceramic-on-ceramic. An example of one type of prosthesis is shown here (figure 2). Each surface has unique advantages and disadvantages, and your surgeon can discuss which surface is appropriate for you. (See "Total hip arthroplasty".)


Management — After surgery, you will be given pain medication through your IV or by mouth. You will also be given an antibiotic to prevent infection. (See "Prevention of prosthetic joint and other types of orthopedic hardware infection".)

Most people are also given a medication to help prevent blood clots in the legs. Compression boots (devices that are worn around the legs and that inflate periodically) are often worn to prevent blood clots. Compression stockings may also be recommended. (See "Prevention of venous thromboembolic disease in surgical patients".)

Rehabilitation — Physical therapy (PT) is an important part of the recovery process. Most people are able to try standing and even walking, with the help of a physical therapist, within the first 24 hours.

Your length of stay in the hospital will depend upon a number of factors, including pain control, demonstration of safe mobility, and medical stability. In the hospital, you will work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise and rehabilitation program. You may continue your therapy at home, or you may stay in a rehabilitation facility and continue PT until you are able to independently perform daily activities.

The rehabilitation program generally includes exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the hip joint, as well as training in activities of daily life (eg, stair climbing, bending, walking). The goal of the rehabilitation is to regain strength and motion.

After several weeks to months of recovery, you will be encouraged to maintain an active lifestyle. Most people can resume their normal activities within three to six months. With newer surgical techniques, recovery time may be reduced even further. While high-impact sports such as running, contact sports, and skiing are not usually recommended after hip replacement, you can typically participate in activities like walking, cycling, and swimming.

Most hip replacements last 10 to 15 years or longer, and most people are very satisfied with the outcome. Newer prosthetic types and bearing surfaces may extend the life of the hip replacement.


Serious complications after hip replacement surgery are not common and can be minimized by choosing a clinician who is experienced and who performs the procedure frequently; and by choosing a hospital that is experienced in caring for patients before, during, and after surgery.

Complications can occur during surgery, in the immediate postoperative period, or many years after surgery. It is important to understand these potential risks before deciding to undergo hip replacement. For most patients, the benefits of reduced pain and improved function outweigh the small risk of complications. (See "Complications of total hip arthroplasty".)

Complications during surgery — Very rarely, complications can occur during the actual hip replacement procedure. These include fractures (typically of the femur) and injury to the surrounding nerves or blood vessels. Most of these complications can be treated during the course of the surgery.

Blood clots — People who undergo hip replacement are at increased risk for developing blood clots after surgery. With appropriate preventive treatments, only about 1 percent of people will develop a blood clot. (See "Patient education: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Pulmonary embolism (Beyond the Basics)".)

Infection — Infection following hip replacement is uncommon (between 0.4 and 1.5 percent of patients). Antibiotics are routinely given (during the first 24 hours only) to help prevent infection. (See "Patient education: Joint infection (Beyond the Basics)" and "Prosthetic joint infection: Treatment".)

Dislocation — Dislocation of the artificial hip joint can occur if the ball becomes dislodged from the socket. Dislocation occurs in less than 2 percent of patients. In most cases, an orthopedic surgeon can move the joint back into place while the patient is sedated.

To minimize the risk of dislocation, some patients are given specific precautions related to the motion of the hip. The particular precautions depend upon how your surgery is performed and should be discussed with your surgeon.

Loosening — Loosening of the joint implant is most often caused by wear of the prosthetic components. It is the most common long-term problem associated with total hip replacement, although the number of people who develop loosening is decreasing as prosthetic materials and surfaces are improved.

Breakage — Breakage of the implant itself can occur as a result of wear and tear of the prosthesis, often over the course of years. Older implants are more likely to break, while newer prostheses are stronger and more durable. This is a rare occurrence, with less than 0.5 percent of people experiencing breakage.

Change in leg length — Before, during, and after hip replacement surgery, a surgeon carefully measures the length of your legs in an attempt to make them equal length. However, in rare cases, the procedure results in one leg being slightly longer than the other. Some people with a significant difference in leg length find that wearing a lift in one shoe is helpful.

Joint stiffening — Joint stiffening caused by extra bone formation, also called heterotopic ossification, is a process in which some soft tissues around the hip harden into bone. People with this problem may experience hip stiffness or may feel no discomfort at all. If you are at risk for joint stiffening, your healthcare provider may recommend a preventive treatment.


Total hip replacement is a very effective surgical procedure that involves replacing the damaged "ball and socket" parts of the hip with replacement (prosthetic) parts, with the goal of relieving pain and improving function.

Most patients require total hip replacement due to pain caused by arthritis. (See 'Reasons for hip replacement' above.)

Following surgery, you will be given medications to prevent infection and control pain. Measures are also taken to prevent blood clots. (See 'Management' above.)

You will work with a physical therapist after surgery to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the hip. (See 'Rehabilitation' above.)

After surgery, you can usually resume your normal activities within three to six months. Newer surgical techniques may allow some patients to return to normal activities even faster. Low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming are recommended. High-impact activities, such as running, are not usually recommended after hip replacement surgery.

Complications following hip replacement surgery are uncommon, and can usually be prevented with careful postoperative management. (See 'Total hip replacement complications' above.)


Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for healthcare professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

Patient education: Osteoarthritis (The Basics)
Patient education: Hip replacement (The Basics)
Patient education: Aseptic necrosis of the hip (The Basics)
Patient education: Hip fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Paget disease of bone (The Basics)

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Patient education: Osteoarthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Psoriatic arthritis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Pulmonary embolism (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Joint infection (Beyond the Basics)

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Complications of total hip arthroplasty
Low molecular weight heparin for venous thromboembolic disease
Prosthetic joint infection: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis
Prevention of prosthetic joint and other types of orthopedic hardware infection
Prevention of venous thromboembolic disease in acutely ill hospitalized medical adults
Prevention of venous thromboembolic disease in surgical patients
Overview of surgical therapy of knee and hip osteoarthritis
Total hip arthroplasty
Total joint replacement for severe rheumatoid arthritis
Prosthetic joint infection: Treatment

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

National Library of Medicine

The Arthritis Foundation
(800) 283-7800

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases



The editorial staff at UpToDate would like to acknowledge Peter Schur, MD, who contributed to an earlier version of this topic review.

Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mon Jan 25 00:00:00 GMT+00:00 2016.
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