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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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