A hip replacement operation can help some patients whose hip joint has become badly worn so that it no longer works properly and causes them pain. The hip joint consists of a ball and socket joint in which the rounded head of the thigh bone (femur) rotates within a socket in the hip. When this joint breaks down, through wear and tear, disease (such as hip arthritis) or damage, it can cause severe pain and significantly restrict the movement of the joint. This can have devastating consequences on mobility and quality of life.
Over 60,000 hip replacement are performed on the
NHS each year; over 20,000 are undertaken in private hospitals. (National Joint Registry 2012).
What is a hip replacement?
Hip replacement surgery involves removing the worn head of the femur and replacing it with a new ball joint. A new socket is also created in the hip. The ball joint is usually replaced with metal, such as titanium alloy, while the socket is lined with high-density polythene. Longer lasting ceramic parts are sometimes used as an alternative.
A hip replacement is a major operation and is only undertaken once a range of other possible treatments have been tried, or once the pain from hip arthritis becomes intense and impacts too much on the normal activities of daily life.
Reasons for having a hip replacement
Most hip replacements are done as a result of hip arthritis, which can take several forms:
Osteoarthritis – hip arthritis caused by wear and tear, which damages the cartilage and connecting tissue and causes the bones to rub together
Rheumatoid arthritis – hip arthritis caused by a disease which makes the immune system attacks the lining of the joint
Septic arthritis – hip arthritis caused by infection in the joints
Whatever the root cause, hip arthritis can lead to significant discomfort, restrictions in lifestyle, lack of mobility, loss of sleep and many other distressing issues. Hip replacement surgery aims to overcome these problems.
Benefits of a hip replacement
The benefits to having a hip replacement include:
Increased mobility - although a replacement hip will not give you quite the same level of movement as your natural hip.
Reduced pain –recovery and physiotherapy can be uncomfortable in the short term but the aim is to give you a pain free hip.
Improved quality of life – a new hip helps you to return to a normal life. You may be able to resume many of the activities that you had stopped doing because of your hip arthritis.
A lasting solution – modern hip replacements are designed to last up to 20 years, providing long-term relief from hip arthritis and other problems.
The decision to have a hip replacement should not be undertaken lightly. A complete hip replacement is a major operation involving a general anaesthetic, a large wound of around 30cm, at least a week in hospital and many weeks of recovery and rehabilitation. In the early stages of hip joint damage, using painkilling drugs and having physiotherapy are worth trying and your surgeon may suggest alternatives such as hip resurfacing or minimally invasive hip replacement surgery, depending on your circumstances.