What exercises can you do after a hip replacement operation? The secrets to a healthy recovery

Can you start exercising again after hip replacement surgery? We asked an expert for their advice...

If you’ve had a hip replacement operation - whereby a damaged hip joint is replaced with an artificial one - chances are increased mobility is one of your desired outcomes from the surgery.

And although a recent survey concluded that the surgery doesn’t improve the physical activity levels of patients, there is plenty you can do to help your recovery and build up your levels of fitness.

Here, John Doyle, head of physiotherapy at Nuffield Health, explains how…

When should you exercise after a hip replacement?

“We now know that it helps to start exercising as soon as you can following a total hip replacement. In the past, patients used to have to rest for a couple of days before beginning exercises, but as surgical techniques and anaesthetics have improved, patients can get started with their rehabilitation in most cases the same day as their operation.

"There are huge benefits to starting exercise programmes early as they help to prevent potential post-operative complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and chest infections. Patients who begin their exercise programmes sooner are also able get home quicker following their operation.”

What exercises should you do?

“In the first few hours after the operation, patients can start to bend their ankles up and wiggle their toes, this can help to improve the flow of blood through their legs reducing the risk of DVT.

“They can also practice taking a few deep breaths to help get air right to the bottom of the lungs. This is really important to reduce the risk of any problems after the surgery. The next stage then is to practice simple exercises while lying on a bed. At this point, the physiotherapist can help guide and support you. These exercises are aimed at getting the leg moving and the muscles working which really help to reduce any post-operative pain and stiffness.

“You will then start the process of learning to walk with the new hip. It’s not as tricky as you may think, but the physiotherapist will help guide you and in most cases you will initially use a walking aid like a frame or crutches. Once you’re up on your feet, there are some really simple exercises that can be performed such as standing on the non-operated leg and moving the operated leg out to the side, behind and also bending the hip up slightly.”

How long should you spend doing exercises after the hip replacement? Should you do them every day?

“After the operation, exercises should be done in short bursts, but regularly throughout the day. As a general rule, three sets of the exercises should be done each day in the first couple of weeks after the operation. After this period, it’s vital you continue to exercise, but, as every patient has their own needs, the type and amount of exercise they perform should be guided by a physiotherapist.”

What warning signs should you look out for?

“It’s very safe to exercise following this operation. The key things to look put for are the rare complications that occasionally occur after surgery. A painful swollen calf can indicate DVT, a red hot and painful scar area may indicate an infection and shortness of breath and pain in the chest may indicate a complication involving lungs. In these instances, seek the advice of a medical professional as soon as you can.”

What else can you do to help your recovery after a hip operation?

“The simplest thing that can be done to aid recovery is to take your painkillers. Often patients are reluctant to take painkillers as they are worried that by masking the pain, they will do themselves more damage. This really isn’t the case and by taking the painkillers, patients are able to get their legs moving with reduced pain.

“Another simple way to get better quicker is to set a realistic goal to achieve after the operation. An example of this might be being able to walk to local shop by the end of the third week following the operation.

“My final advice is to make sure you discuss any worries or concerns you have with your consultant or physiotherapist. Nearly all patients have questions, but many are afraid to ask. It might be something as simple as being worried about the pain or nervous about doing certain activities.”

Is there anything you should avoid?

“One key thing to avoid is spending too much time sitting or lying in one position. Whilst rest is important after this operation, keep moving by doing exercise or by taking small walks can help to reduce feelings of stiffness and pain.”

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