The main reason for hip replacement surgery is to treat severe hip arthritis. Breakdown of the hip joint is something that starts gradually but can then get worse over a period of weeks.
Recognising the early symptoms of hip arthritis
The early symptoms of hip arthritis include:
Aching around the hip joint and groin area, although pain can also be felt in the knee and back, due to changes in posture
Pain that remains even when sitting or standing still but that can be relieved by pain killers
Finding it more difficult to move easily; although you can still do your usual daily activities, sports and exercise might become too uncomfortable
A hip replacement isn’t justified in these early stages as the risks outweigh the benefits. If you are experiencing mild pain and can still move fairly well, it is still worth seeing your doctor or orthopaedic surgeon to see if anything can be done to help. Physiotherapy and exercises, or hip resurfacing are possibilities that can be extend the time before you need a complete hip replacement.
Signs that you need hip replacement surgery
You will know that it is time to consider hip replacement surgery when your pain begins to take over your life. For example:
Your pain wakes you at night or stops you sleeping
Your pain limits your lifestyle choices; some people don’t feel able to go out and do anything
Your pain inhibits the daily activities of life, so cooking, looking after yourself and working becomes more difficult
You no longer feel comfortable with the amount of over-the counter pain killers you need; perhaps you don’t even get relief from the maximum daily dose
You begin to feel down or depressed by your pain and you feel desperate to have a hip replacement operation
Diagnostic tests to make sure you need hip replacement surgery
Often, the description of your pain alone is enough to strongly suggest hip arthritis, but your GP or consultant will want to diagnose your problem using a series of tests that include X-rays, scans and blood tests before they recommend hip replacement surgery.
It is possible to experience hip joint pain due to other problems, such as prolapsed vertebral discs, nerve damage around the hip or inflamed tendons. In this case, you will not need hip replacement surgery. If you have cartilage damage or loose material in the hip joint that is causing problems, a hip arthroscopy may help.
Hip replacement surgery – important choices
Hip replacement surgery should always be considered carefully, as it is a major operation that carries significant risks. It is important to remember that hip replacement surgery is your choice. Each of us has a different pain threshold and only you can decide when you reach a level of discomfort that you can no longer tolerate.
Take advice from your doctors though – joint damage only gets worse and, although waiting times within the NHS have reduced a lot over the last few years, you may still face a wait of several months for a hip replacement in some parts of the UK. If you have private medical insurance, or can afford to pay for the surgery, waiting times for hip replacement surgery in a private hospital are much shorter.