Susan Heinrich is pictured in the distance hiking on a trails at Vail. There are pine trees and green hills beyond her.

What I Wish I Knew Before Hip Replacement Surgery


A total hip replacement at age 49 was scary, and it changed my life. Here’s what I learned.

When my mobility evaporated at age 49, I was shocked to learn I needed hip surgery — this is what I wish I knew before my hip replacement.

Being told you need a hip replacement can feel scary and overwhelming. Knowing what to expect and what I had control over, would have eased my anxiety about surgery and aided in recovery afterward.

Please comment below if you are also facing hip surgery and have questions about my experience. 

Before I share what I learned, here is a quick recap on my hip  replacement. Hip pain and limited mobility led me to learn I had hip dysplasia, which was never previously diagnosed. X-rays revealed the cartilage in my left hip had degenerated to the point that my only option was a total hip replacement. You can read the story of my hip replacement, including a week-by-week recovery in Hip Replacement Recovery.

After searching for the right doctor (more on that below), I opted for an anterior hip replacement, rather than a traditional posterior replacement. My surgeon was Dr. Craig Loucks of Peak Orthopedics in Denver. That was almost seven years ago, and I am happy to say that surgery completely changed my life for the better. 

Susan Heinrich with an e-bike on the Greek island of Poros, a town on a hill in the distance
I believed I was too young to need a hip replacement. I was wrong.

What I Learned and Wish I knew, Before Hip Replacement Surgery

I wasn't too young for a hip replacement

When I first started experiencing pain and limited mobility, I was certain the problem was my back. I had struggled with back pain and stiffness since I was pregnant with my second son. Because I knew pain could radiate from one area to another, I assumed the problem was my back. I had never heard of anyone younger than 50 needing hip replacement surgery. What were the chances I had had hip problems in my late 40s? So I pursued therapy for my back; as a result, I suffered needlessly for months before finally learning the problem was indeed my hip.  

I wish I had known that hip replacements are increasingly common among younger patients, and I wasn’t too young for the procedure. According to the Cleveland Clinic, hip replacements among patients aged 45-54, increased 200% between 2000 and 2010. 

Newer materials used in hip replacements now last longer, so younger patients are having the surgery sooner.  

Four doctors stand together, three are men and one is a woman. Two are wearing white lab coats and two are dressed in blue scrubs

It was ok to be choosy about the surgeon for my hip replacement

Once my hip degeneration was diagnosed, I made an appointment with a local orthopedic surgeon recommended by several friends. He was a leading expert. This would be simple, Ithought — we’d meet and I would schedule my surgery. I was a busy mom with kids who were 16 and 13. Hip pain was interfering with my sleep, and my lack of mobility was problematic for all of us. The sooner I had surgery, the better. 

I was incredibly nervous on the day of the meeting; I was taking the first concrete step toward surgery. Rather than leaving that appointment feeling at ease, I left feeling more anxious than before. The appointment had been somewhat rushed, and although the doctor was pleasant enough, something felt off.  It didn’t occur to me that I had every right to consider other surgeons. People said this surgeon was great; was I being irrational? 

I decided to do additional research about the options available, and that was when I learned about an anterior hip replacement. With its muscle-sparing technique and faster short-term recovery, it seemed like something I should consider. I was surprised the first surgeon hadn’t mentioned it. I checked back on their website and learned that they didn’t do that style of surgery. I wanted to talk to a doctor who did. 

Meeting with Dr. Craig Loucks was an entirely different experience. He took time to explain everything and answer all my questions.  I felt my anxiety lift as he reassured me that I was a perfect candidate and my life would totally change post-surgery. He advised I have my hip replacement ASAP. By the end of the appointment, I had scheduled surgery and felt hopeful for the first time in months.

I wish I had known that I should do my own research and it was reasonable to meet with multiple doctors. I didn’t have to go with the first doctor I met with. It would have saved me some anxiety. 

A woman's blood pressure is taken in a doctor's office. Only her arm is visible, along with a doctor holding her wrist and a stethoscope

Preparing for surgery would feel like a part-time job

My surgeon had an unexpected opening, and his office asked if I wanted surgery in three weeks. Otherwise, I’d have to wait a while. I jumped at the chance. I wish I’d known what those next three weeks would look like. 

A hip replacement is still a major surgery. As such, there are many tests and appointments required before surgery. I needed an electrocardiogram to ensure my heart was strong enough for surgery. I also had to see my regular doctor for bloodwork and a complete physical to ensure  I was healthy and could have surgery. 

Complications began almost immediately. I couldn’t schedule surgery until my insurance company authorized it so that delayed things. I was told insurance companies can take up to two weeks to process the request.  

My doctor’s office never sent bloodwork to the surgeon, which required extra phone calls. And there were endless email exchanges with Dr. Loucks’ surgery scheduler as I provided all the required information and test results to their office — the paperwork seemed endless. 

I had to meet with a physical therapist before surgery, so I would have everything in place to begin PT when the surgeon gave me the ok. PT is a crucial part of recovery. 

I was also preparing for my mom to visit; she’d stay for a week or two after surgery to help with the kids. 

I wish I had known before hip surgery that three weeks would be tight timing for all the pre-op requirements because it made the preparation especially busy and stressful. 

A woman wearing grey tights and a t-shirt lies on a therapy table and a therapist holds one of her legs at the knee and ankle

My recovery would be 2-steps forward and 1-step back

I was home the same day I had surgery which was wonderful. I was grateful it was over.  But there was lots to do and manage; I found the compression girdle and tights I had to wear a bit inconvenient. There were medications to track as well. And that first week felt as though a horse had kicked my upper thigh, where my incision was. I ached and so I did very little.  

By week two, I felt better and was very tired of being in bed. My husband took my mom and I for a drive into the mountains and I managed a short walk on a nature trail; I breathed in the crisp fall air. It felt wonderful. I felt ready to begin more exercise but was not permitted to walk other than a very short jaunt. My surgeon had given me a stern warning against doing too much too soon, even though I felt ready. I wasn’t prepared for how frustrating that would feel. 

Then I hit a plateau in week three, more achy pain. The journey to full recovery would take time, and I had to be patient.  Recovery might not be entirely linear. I wish I had known that those first weeks would come with ups and downs as I dealt with progress and what felt like setbacks. 

A woman with crossed legs holds one hand at her ankle her other hand on her knee as if she is in pain

At times, I would question my recovery

As mentioned above, there was some pain with recovery. It was manageable but still discouraging at times. Interestingly, it was a different pain than I had had in my hip joint. My hip pain was entirely gone which was a huge relief. 

Pain is interesting because although you are told to expect it, dealing with pain in recovery is more difficult for some people than others. For me the issue was around week four when I wondered if my residual pain would ever resolve? Was this “normal” versus something that meant I wasn’t progressing in my healing. I called the surgeon and my mind was put at ease. I’d see them two weeks later as planned.

I wish I had talked more with my surgeon about what type of pain to expect and what was normal recovery versus what were red flags suggesting I should give them a call. And I wished I had called them sooner to put my mind at ease. 

physical therapy after hip replacement
physical therapy after hip replacement

Even physical therapy would require patience

I knew I’d be doing physical therapy and was ready to commit to a challenging routine. But my therapist had me doing very basic exercises to start, three weeks post-surgery. I had lost some balance, for example, and needed to regain it. I was frustrated. I wanted my fitness level back and felt ready to get more active. But I needed to follow his lead on what I should be doing and when. That required patience.  

As with the rest of my hip replacement recovery, knowing something and experiencing it are different. I hadn’t expected my balance to be off and needed to work on basics. Getting back to my previous fitness level would take more time and patience than I anticipated. 

Susan Heinrich hiking on Grand Teton National Park
Hiking at Grand Teton National Park, with my new hip

I could enjoy exercise other than running

My surgeon advised me that once I recovered from surgery, I could do everything I did before, other than running and high-impact exercises. Although I was a casual runner, I liked that it was an efficient way to get a cardio workout and alleviate stress; I ran a few days a week. 

So when Dr. Loucks told me running was prohibited after surgery, I was initially disappointed. It felt like another loss I had to accept.

I wish I’d known that once I got used to other forms of exercise, I wouldn’t miss running at all. I grew to love indoor cycling, and a personal trainer helped me establish a new routine to support my physical therapy and regain the strength I’d lost when I’d been inactive. With a new routine, I gained muscle and surpassed my previous level of fitness. 

Susan Heinrich is on skis at the top of the back bowls in Vail Colorado
Susan skiing at Vail a few years after hip surgery

Life after my hip replacement would be better than I imagined

At my appointment at seven weeks after hip surgery, I was given the go-ahead for more exercise. From there, things rapidly improved. It would take about six months before I got to a point where I wasn’t being cautious of my hip at all and truly felt myself. 

Just over a year later, I went on a bucket list trip to India. I also changed my perspective on prioritizing myself and my health, which enabled me to get into the best shape of my life. I wrote about how my hip replacement inspired me to prioritize my health in: Fit At Fifty. 

Learning that you require a total hip replacement is scary and stressful. More than anything else, I wish I had saved myself a lot of anxiety by believing that everything would go smoothly and my life after surgery would be even sweeter than before. Once you have a hip replacement, you appreciate your health and mobility in a new way. hip 

30 Responses

  1. I so agree..I have experienced the same thoughts even..the plateaus and all. It has only been 2 good shape but older than you..have ups and be expected!
    Thanks for sharing..feeling encouraged and most of all ..we still can walk and enjoy life. The best to you.

  2. I’m preparing for THR ROBOITICLY…your story helps me with the anxiety I’m beginning to feel. I will be keeping my own dairy of the hip replacement surgery too help with the feeling of anxiety 😅. Thank you sincerely

    1. I had the anterior approach, robotically assisted THR procedure 17 days ago and I’m pain free (in my hip) with only residual soreness in my thigh from the surgery. Now walking 3/4 mi./day with a cane for stability only. I won’t kid you, the first few days were rough, but mostly learning how to navigate moving and how not to move. Do exactly what your surgeon tells you to do, and especially what they tell you not to do. It works. My surgeon told me, ” You are unique, your hip is not”. At the beginning, the pain was very manageable with opioids and I only needed them for 3 days. It wasn’t bad. Anticipating the surgery is far worse than the experience. Once you have it done, you’ll be so focused on recovery, the anxiety will disappear. Be excited. YOU WILL BE FINE!

  3. Both the short term and lifelong restrictions after a hip replacement make me feel indescribably angry. How do I deal with that? Some of the suggestions I see online are economically impossible for me. Some of them might be fine at home, but cannot be put in to practice outside the home. Others seem achievable only in La La Land.

    1. Hi Kristin – The recovery takes some time, but the long-term benefits of a new hip make it worthwhile. Yes the compression socks and girdle and requirement to ice are a lot initially. I am not sure what long-term restrictions you are referring to. I am able to do all I did before with the exception of running, high-impact aerobics and skiing bumps. Sending you my best!

  4. So glad I stumbled on your blog. I’ve been oscillating about the surgery weighing living with hip pain vs loosing flexibility perhaps for the rest of my life. I really need my flexibility to do yoga to fully stretch out and to sit at a potter’s wheel which is definitely more than a 90° bend at the hip since you lean over the pot.
    *Globtrotter, can you bend over a touch the floor? Can you cross your legs to put your shoes on? And, can you sit on a low stool and lean over as if you were throwing a pot on a potter’s wheel? Thanks for your input

    1. Hi Ramsey – Yes, I can do all of the things you asked about. My flexibility is great. Definitely discuss short and long-term expectations with your surgeon. You do have to limit certain movements in the first weeks following the surgery. They will explain all that. Sending you my very best! Susan

  5. Thanks for sharing this, I’m 37 and about to have my hip replaced this week. I’ve been struggling for 13 years (previously had hip surgery but not a replacement), so I’m really excited about the possibility about doing basic things like walking (and maybe even hiking!) but also nervous about the actual surgery and recovery, or if I will end up worse then I am already. Appreciate this share – thank you.

    1. Dear Kristine, I am so sorry to hear of all the struggles you have had at such a young age. I hope your surgery went well! I am sure you were in great hands. I am sending you my very best in your recovery and hope that before long you will be out hiking and doing everything else you want to do! Warmly, Susan

  6. Just stumbled across your blog, preparing for my THJR in 2 days time. It’s a relief to read that you have been able to resume an active life. Similar to you, I’m 47, diagnosed with hip dysplasia after years of attributing pain to other issues (ITB, hip flexors) and playing basketball for 30+years. I know I won’t be able to go back to basketball but good to know you have been able to enjoy other activities, and I’m looking forward to exploring new sports. About to read your recovery journey. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. This is definitely what I needed to read today. I’m 45 and just finding out this week that hip replacement maybe my only option after a year of so many other treatments. Your story makes me much more optimistic about the future.

    1. Hi Jennifer, Glad to hear you feel encouraged and optimistic. I know it’s disheartening to get the news that you need a THR. Wishing you all the best! Susan

  8. I have been having steroid injections in my right hip once a year for the last 5 years. Since I turned 65, it has now gotten to the point where I am having them every 3-4 months out of the year just to be able tolerate the pain. I went to see my orthopedic surgeon to discuss having a hip replacement and he explained the surgery to me and said that he performs the posterior type hip replacement. I’m confident in my doctor but I have always had this fear of having the surgery. We have scheduled my surgery for the end of this year. Now that I have read about everything involved with the recovery and how long I will be off my feet and going through PT makes me more anxious…Any advice?

    1. Hi Renee – I really can’t offer advice as I am not an expert and everyone’s recovery is a little different. For me, the recovery required patience but really wasn’t that bad and my improved quality of life has been so worth it! Susan

  9. I’m petrified of hip (I need both done) surgery due to the things I’ve read about how fatal fracture during surgery can be. But I am in so much pain I’ve become sedentary. How do I know if my bones are strong enough to avoid fracture during surgery?

    1. Hi there – I was scared as well and of course there are risks with any surgery. Your surgeon should be able to put any risks in perspective for you. Susan

  10. I am 74 and had a partial hip replacement 6 weeks ago. I fell on my tile floor at 2AM and out came the EMTS. I waited 27 hours for surgery but was drugged the entire time and remember nothing until I was in a hospital room. I signed a consent that I have no memory of signing. My daughter was my proxy and should have signed and been able to ask questions. After the surgery at my 4 week visit all was well. it is now six weeks and I drive and use a cane. It was a left side surgery. My daughter asked about the implant and we were told metal on metal. My daughter, a health professional asks had they not all been recalled in 2004-5. She mentioned . possible future problems and his response was that none of HIS patients had had problems. I asked if my own ortho could come and they said too high up the food chain and did not get called. Tour metal on metal is chrome and cobalt. Over time it can cause myriad symptoms, none of them good. I will probably call the manufacturer. Recommendation I read is to get blood baselines of chromium and cobalt. My go back to my ortho of 25 years to get an opinion about both the implant and bloodwork. also because I am on PPO medicare with a 2ndary I spent 2 weeks in an SNL with daily PT/OT. Except for my concerns about the implant it was a lot easier recovery than new knees, a rotator cuff repair, breast cancer and a few more. get off the narcotics as soon as you can and have a Tylenol regime. I have done that for 6 weeks

  11. I wish someone would talk about the mental aspect. It can be more scary than the physical pain.

  12. I’m not sure when you had your surgery but thank you for this. I’m 48 years old and have a hip replacement scheduled in a month. I have been dealing with hip pain for 2 years. My first doctor told me I needed to wait till I was 55 and I left his appointment so disheartened. I finally decided this summer to get a second opinion and the surgeon told me I was a perfect candidate and not to wait any longer because my quality of life was more important. I cried when he told me that. Thank you for talking about your recovery. I honestly have no idea what to expect with an anterior hip replacement. I’m nervous but excited and so looking forward to not being in pain anymore. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Hi Bethany. I was 49 when I had my anterior replacement and also sought a second opinion in order to find teh right surgeon, so we have a lot in common. Very best wishes with your surgery. Susan

  13. Hi Susan, I’m due for a THR in 2 days. Like others here I am terrified that I will never be able to manage my life again, and terrified of the pain. Reading your blog has comforted me greatly – thanks so much for sharing.

  14. Hi Jack here in scotland .just been diagnosed with osteoathritice in left hip .consultant said cam impingment with labrel tear.zaid would not push me towards surgery yet.i feel really down as been active all my life and ski 3 trips a season .even standing or 30min walk I in pain.cannot find any pain management.did not think would be able to ski again if get hip replacement.age 62.

    1. Hi Jack, So sorry to hear this; I can relate to the pain and feeling down about giving up beloved activities. Fellow skier here and I was able to ski after surgery, once it had all fully healed. My doctor just advised I avoid bumps or any other impact exercise. Obviously speak to your surgeon about what you can do following surgery, timelines etc. Wishing you the best!

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About - Midlife Globetrotter

Hey there,

I’m glad you’re here. Can we talk about midlife? I reached my late 40’s, realized my kids were growing up, and adventure began calling in a new way: big travel adventures as well as everyday ones. I want Midlife Globetrotter to be a place where we explore how to add a sense of fun, freedom and meaning to these precious years. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and all that’s ahead.




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