Has your doctor talked to you about hip replacement surgery due to damage from rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? If so, you’re not alone. Every year, 200,000 people in the U…S. have hip replacements surgery, most often due to osteo- inflammatory arthritis, such as RA, and osteonecrosis or hip fracture. This article will focus on recovering from total hip replacement surgery.
Recovering from total hip replacement surgery
Recovering from a hip replacement is going to challenge you physically and emotionally. It’s a long, slow, and often difficult process. It can wear you down, but remember that the great thing about surgery pain is that it diminishes a little every day until one day, it’s gone.
Dan Malito, who writes Dan’s du Journal for CreakyJoints and the raconteur of TalkingJoints, talked about pre-surgery hip pain. “People will say ‘what’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt?’ Still to this day, even though it’s 20 years ago, it’s that pain of the hip before it was replaced.” Both Dan and myself have had bilateral hip replacements at a young age — me at 16 and Dan at 19 and 21 years old. We both remember the absence of that RA pain after the surgery, even all these years later.
Initially, a physical therapist will come to your house to take you through the first, less challenging exercises to help you get to the point where you can go to a clinic for your physical therapy. That’s when the really hard work starts and there will be times when you won’t be very fond of the person who is making you do these things. But at the end of it all, you’ll love them for pushing you.
And speaking of pain, your RA may flare after the surgery. The surgery is a sort of trauma and, afterwards, your body is highly offended (totally understandable). Your body needs time to simmer down and heal after being cut open. The painkillers you were given at the hospital will help you deal with the pain and you can also use the other techniques you know to deal with flares. Usually, you will be off NSAIDs and maybe your DMARDs or biologics for a while before surgery and it’s a good idea to talk to your surgeon about when you can begin to take your RA meds again. If you’re having a hard time controlling the flare, talk to your rheumatologist or the surgeon.
The emotional reaction
Recovering from this surgery is also an emotional challenge. It is quite normal to, at about the three-week mark, to get really depressed and upset. Let yourself experience the emotions— you’re doing a really hard thing and it’s okay to be frustrated. But also remember that being upset is a good sign. It means that you have recovered enough to not just inch your way through each day.
“That muscle heals really fast,” Dan said. “I am really impatient, so within a month, I was up and around trying the stairs. I wasn’t able to do that before the surgery.” Even though rehabilitation can be hard work, the joy of the pain being gone and being able to start to do things that you couldn’t before the surgery, is going to help you through the times when you are tired and frustrated.
Life after hip replacements
“I wouldn’t have had any kind of life without getting the hips replaced,” Dan said. “By the time I got the hips replaced, not only was there no cartilage left, but it was a jagged bone rubbing up against jagged bone. That should you give you an idea of how painful it was to simply move my hip a couple of degrees. There wasn’t any quality of life.” Even though Dan still lives with severe RA and disability, his hip replacements have given him a great deal of quality of life.
And that’s the key factor of these surgeries. The excruciating pain and lack of mobility that color your life before the surgery are gone. Once you’ve gone through the recovery and rehabilitation processes, your life will be very different. The absence of pain will by itself greatly enhance your quality of life, but the fact that your mobility will be increased will make everything so much better.
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.