What Is Hip Replacement Rehabilitation?

Alex Paul

Hip replacement rehabilitation mainly involves strengthening the hip while avoiding damage to the joint following hip replacement surgery. The first step in hip replacement rehabilitation is to teach the patient to walk with an assistive device. This is usually followed by exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the hip, such as the gluteus muscles. When the patient is able to return home, he or she should continue with an exercise program while learning to perform daily activities safely.

An X-ray of the pelvic area, showing a replacement hip.
An X-ray of the pelvic area, showing a replacement hip.

Immediately after a hip replacement procedure, the first step in rehabilitation is to get the patient up and walking again. The amount of time before this is possible varies from patient to patient, but it can be as little as one day. Once the patient is able to walk, a physiotherapist provides hip replacement rehabilitation exercises. The goal of the exercise routine is to strengthen the hip while maintaining flexibility.

Hip replacement rehabilitation aims to alleviate joint pain.
Hip replacement rehabilitation aims to alleviate joint pain.

Initial hip replacement rehabilitation exercises are often designed to be performed in bed. Isometric exercises, in which muscles are contracted without movement of the limbs, are especially useful in this stage. This is so the patient is able to maintain strength without any risk of damage to the hip or serious discomfort. Exercises often involve strengthening the gluteus muscles — found on the posterior, or back, of the hip — quadriceps and ankles.

Once the patient has returned home, it’s essential for him or her to continue strengthening the hip. This can be achieved using the exercises recommended by the physical therapist, but also by slowly returning to normal activities. Walking on a regular basis — with an assistive device until told otherwise — is important in this stage, because it helps to strengthen the hip muscles and reduce recovery time. More advanced hip exercises may be recommended by a physical therapist as the patient progresses.

Another important part of rehabilitation after the patient returns home is learning how to perform daily activities without damaging the hip. After surgery, the patient should avoid flexing the hip past a 90® angle, so a device to use in picking up items from the floor can be useful. The patient also may require an elevated toilet seat.

It is important during hip replacement rehabilitation not to damage the hip by attempting difficult exercises too soon. If an exercise causes lasting discomfort or pain in the hip, then the patient should reduce the intensity of the exercise and talk to his or her physiotherapist. If the surgeon recommends the use of a walking device, then the patient should always use it until told otherwise.

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