What Is Hip Replacement Surgery?

Over 450,000 Americans get hip replacement surgery each year.

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Hip replacement surgery is a common procedure: There are around half a million per year in the United States, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Whether the pain is due to arthritis or an injury, hip replacement surgery can improve your mobility and get you back to the activities you enjoy.

What to Know About the Hip

“The hip joint is typically referred to as a ball and socket joint,” says William Macaulay, MD, orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. The top of the thigh bone (femur) has a ball-shaped head that fits into a socket of the pelvic bone. Both the ball and socket have smooth tissue called cartilage that cushions and protects the bones.

Hip pain may arise for a few reasons. One common cause is osteoarthritis, which is when the cartilage protecting the bone slowly wears away over time. This causes the bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and stiffness. Other things that can damage the cartilage is rheumatoid arthritis or a serious hip injury.

“When people have problems with their hip, it's almost difficult to imagine any activity one could do that involves not moving the hip joint at all. It would be basically remaining motionless,” says Dr. Macaulay. “It's this combination of decreased range of motion and stiffness and pain which usually drives people to have their hips replaced.”

What Is Hip Replacement Surgery?

During hip replacement surgery, the orthopedic surgeon removes the femoral head and replaces it with a metal stem with a ball at the end. Then, they replace the socket of the pelvic bone with a metal socket—sometimes with screws or cement.

Finally, there will be a spacer made of plastic, ceramic, or metal between the metal ball and metal socket. This helps to aid movement, kind of like the original cartilage.

Recovering from Hip Replacement Surgery

“Typically, the recovery time for hip replacement surgery is quite fast and getting better every year,” says Dr. Macaulay. In fact, he notes that just under half of his patients go home the same day as their surgery. “Their pain will be less than it was coming in within two or three days, and that will only continue to improve as they get closer to two and three weeks.”

In many cases, patients can expect to get back to weight-bearing activities “almost immediately,” says Dr. Macaulay. However, he recommends going over this with the surgeon, since everyone’s circumstances differ. Some people may take more time than others. “In general, I tell my hip replacement patients that the more they walk, the earlier they do it, the better they're going to feel,” he says.

Learn more about what to expect during recovery of joint replacement surgery here.

A Better Life

“Hip replacement surgery can improve a patient's quality of life by, number one, removing pain,” says Dr. Macaulay. “Number two, I would say is improvement in function, which includes every facet of one's life. People can get back to walking activities, sporting activities, hiking, and every sport you could imagine.”

Even with the promise of reduced pain and improved mobility, it’s natural to be nervous about surgery. Luckily, joint replacement surgery is common and your surgical team should be very experienced in providing successful procedures. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you can expect.

“The best thing to do is to speak with your physician first,” says Ann Marie Moynihan, RN, director of nursing at NYU Langone Health. “Set expectations as to the recovery [and] ask as many questions as you can. [They] will really guide you as to what will happen after the surgery.”