Living with hip pain can be frustrating and debilitating, especially when it has an effect on how you go about your daily routine. You may find it difficult to simply walk upstairs or get adequate sleep. Dealing with this type of discomfort can even put a strain on relationships with the people who care for you every day. Whether the cause of your pain is due to an injury or a medical condition, your doctor may recommend hip replacement surgery if all other options have been unsuccessful. Unfortunately, pain after hip replacement surgery can occur as well.
As with any surgery, it’s normal to have concerns before you undergo any procedure. It’s important to know, though, that the benefits often outweigh the possibility of complications and pain after hip replacement surgery. This post covers the information you need to know regarding pain after hip replacement surgery. We also discuss ways to cope with it and things to be aware of during your recovery.
What are normal amounts of pain after hip replacement surgery?
During a hip replacement, your surgeon will remove damaged sections of your hip joint and replace them with artificial parts made of metal, ceramic, or plastic. In the long run, these parts should improve your range of motion and reduce any pain you currently experience. However, like any surgical procedure, a hip replacement can cause short-term pain.
It is difficult to determine how much discomfort you will experience after surgery because every person and case is unique. Always talk with your doctor about the type and severity of pain you’re experiencing during your recovery and follow their directions for pain management.
Typically, many patients may find relief from over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers 2,000-3,000 milligrams per day to be safe, but you should consult with your doctor regarding an appropriate regimen for your specific needs. For example, if you are elderly or have a history of liver problems, you will need a smaller dose.
Many patients won’t find relief from over-the-counter medications and will need a prescription for something stronger. Your doctor will determine if a prescription pain killer is appropriate for your pain management and will provide a schedule of how much you should take and how often.
Recovery restrictions after hip replacement surgery
You can expect to spend about three days in the hospital following surgery, though you may need to stay longer if your doctor recommends it. Your doctor or a physical therapist will discuss precautions you should be aware of for the weeks after your surgery. During this time, you will usually need to use crutches or a cane to stabilize your movements to prevent further injury.
Your physical therapist will also help you learn how to use a shower bench and raised toilet seat to make daily functions easier during your recovery.
Patients with a desk job can usually return to work within a month, but physicians don’t recommend driving for several months. If your job requires more extensive physical activity, you will have to plan on staying home a number of months.
In terms of an overall recovery, you can expect to feel mostly back to normal within three months, but a full recovery can take approximately one year. Your doctor will be able to anticipate specific restrictions you may face due to your current condition and medical history.
Additional challenges for men
Recent studies show that women often have better outcomes than men following hip replacement surgery. Researchers looked at 97,000 cases of hip and knee replacements at an Ontario hospital and found that men:
- Were more likely to make a trip to the emergency room within 30 days
- Suffered from more heart attacks
- Needed revision surgery more often
- Were more likely to suffer a serious infection after surgery
If you’re at a higher risk for complications, make sure to talk to your doctor about all of your concerns.
Where will I feel pain after hip replacement surgery?
You can expect to experience some discomfort in the hip region itself, as well as groin pain and thigh pain. This is normal as your body adjusts to changes made to joints in that area.
There can also be pain in the thigh and knee that is typically associated with a change in the length of your leg. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to closely follow a physical therapy routine following your surgery. You will be asked to do various exercises during the day. Some patients continue to work with a physical therapist at home to learn how to correctly sit, stand, get out of bed, and walk. This process can be invaluable to get your mobility and strength back.
While it is common to experience some pain at the site of your incisions, new advances in technology have made this aspect of the procedure much easier. Smaller instruments allow for incisions of just three inches, rather than the larger incisions that were necessary in the past. This improved technique allows for less damage to the muscle and soft tissue. This can reduce the level of pain you can expect to experience after surgery.
How long does hip replacement pain last?
Every patient’s recovery time is unique based on several personal factors. Most people, though, experience surgical pain for approximately two to four weeks following hip replacement surgery.
Your activity level, medical history, and any pain you’re dealing with before surgery have an effect on how long it will take you to make a full recovery. If you don’t have other health issues, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, you can expect to recover faster.
Most people report feeling better every week as they continue to do physical therapy stretches and exercises. You may still need to adhere to a continuous schedule of pain medications after surgery. Doctors also recommend sleeping with a foam wedge between your legs for about three months. This can help stabilize your hip at night.
Why am I still experiencing pain?
Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. undergo hip replacement surgery every year, making it one of the safest surgeries to perform. In fact, the success rate is incredibly high with only 2% of patients reporting surgical complications like joint infection.
However, if you are still experiencing significant pain after surgery, you should contact your surgeon as soon as possible to find out what is causing the pain to persist. This will ensure that treatment is given in a timely manner to prevent further damage. If pain persists beyond what is considered to be normal, it could be due to one of several risk factors.
Hip replacement surgery pain causes may include:
- Change in leg length
- Aging prosthetic hip joints
Let’s look at these in more detail.
An infection most often occurs at the incision site, but is easily treated with antibiotics. A more serious internal infection may require another surgery to remove the artificial parts that were put into place.
Unfortunately, it is possible for the healthy parts of your hip joint to fracture during surgery. While these will often heal on their own, larger fractures may need to be corrected with additional parts, such as pins or metal plates.
Certain positions can cause your hip to dislocate when the ball of your new joint becomes dislodged. In that case, your doctor will give you a brace to keep your hip in place. Some cases may require additional surgery for stabilization.
Change in leg length
While your surgeon will do several things to avoid this problem, sometimes a new hip can cause one leg to be longer or shorter than the other. Muscles surrounding the hip can be the culprit of this condition, but strengthening and stretching may help.
It is considered rare because of medical advancements and the prosthetic parts used today, but it is possible for your new joint to have issues becoming fixed to the bone. In other cases, they simply loosen over extended periods of time. Surgery is needed to fix this type of complication.
Aging prosthetic hip joints
For patients who have undergone a hip replacement at a young age and remained relatively active, it is possible for the parts to wear out over time. New implants are making this increasingly rare, but a second hip replacement may be necessary in some cases.
What treatments can help chronic hip pain?
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are still experiencing pain that affects your day-to-day life months after surgery.
Once the cause of your pain is established, there are a range of options available to help you get the relief you need. It is best to try non-invasive treatment options before turning to revision surgery or more invasive forms of pain management.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation
Exercises, stretches, training, and conditioning can help ease pain and improve your range of motion. Many patients recovering from hip replacement surgery tend to limit normal movement and activity due to pain, but this can increase your risk of further disability.
Working with an experienced physical therapist will guarantee that you have a routine designed specifically with your personal recovery in mind.
Transcutaneous electrical nervous system (TENS)
This non-invasive treatment option involves the placement of pads containing electrodes on your skin above nerves. These electrodes then emit electrical impulses that can block pain signals.
Only mild side effects from this treatment have been reported. This may include redness, burning, or stinging of the skin under the pads and temporary muscular discomfort. Because of this, this treatment can be used on older patients suffering from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis as well as others who are trying to avoid medications.
Whether you’re experiencing mild or severe pain, your doctor can help you devise a medication plan. NSAIDs like aspirin can manage acute cases of pain by inhibiting inflammation in joints and other tissues. However, NSAIDs can be harmful if taken long term. Side effects include gastric ulcers, acid reflux, and kidney damage.
If all other therapy options have failed, your doctor may consider opioid painkillers, such as morphine or oxycodone. Due to the highly addictive nature of these drugs, a pain specialist will assess your situation and any risks before prescribing this type of medication.
Nerve blocks and radiofrequency ablation
Pain-blocking injections can inhibit the pain signals of spinal nerves that serve the hip region. When a nerve block is administered, you will be numbed to reduce discomfort before the specialist uses imaging techniques to ensure an accurate injection. This will directly target the hip joint to reduce pain and inflammation.
Radiofrequency ablation is another procedure in which nerves are prevented from sending painful signals. This method may provide pain relief for a number of months by using thermoelectric energy to disrupt parts of the nerve responsible for pain signals.
If the previous methods discussed are not successful, your doctor may recommend spinal cord stimulation.
This procedure involves the placement of a device within a targeted area of the spine. The implant includes electrodes that emit an electrical signal that overrides pain signals of the nerves responsible for a certain area, such as the hip joint. This is often connected to a control device outside the body. There, the patient can manage pain-correcting signals as needed.
For most people, hip replacement surgery successfully improves hip pain and their overall quality of life. However, additional surgery may be needed if the pain persists and all other methods of pain management have proven to be unsuccessful.
This is often considered a last resort due to the invasive nature and additional recovery time. Your doctor will decide if this is necessary in your specific case.
Get help with your pain
At Arizona Pain, we are proud to offer a team approach for pain management. We offer on-site chiropractic care, behavioral therapy, a procedure center, and more.
If you are experiencing pain due to hip replacement surgery, make an appointment with our award-winning physicians to learn more about your treatment options. We are eager to help you find the relief you need so you can get back to living your life.