What Happens During Hip Replacement Surgery


Hip replacement surgery is a big decision, but one that can have a positive effect on a person’s life. Many people considering hip replacement surgery are in constant pain and experience great immobility in the joint.

But what does the procedure entail?

To understand a hip replacement procedure, you must first understand the hip.  There are two parts to the joint: the ball and the socket. The ball is the upper end of the thigh bond; the socket is where the thigh meets the pelvic bone. This is held together by a network of ligaments, tendons and muscles that allows for a wide range of motion.

When undergoing hip replacement surgery, a patient will likely receive general anesthesia. Doctors could also administer regional anesthesia, delivered as spinal anesthesia or an epidural. This would make the patient numb below the waist and the doctor would then administer a medication to make the patient fall asleep.

The surgeon makes an incision ranging from one to six inches, depending on whether robotics are being used.  More modern procedures are guided by computers and require a smaller cut. Some doctors, however, prefer to do things the traditional way and may make an incision above the buttocks that could be as long as six inches.

The doctor will then cut and remove the head of the "ball" part of the joint from the thigh bone, replacing it with a new, artificial "ball." This new attachment can be glued to the existing bone or a porous material can be added, allowing the bone to actually grow around the implant.

Next, the doctor will clean the hip socket of all diseased and damaged cartilage. Any damaged bone will also be removed from the pelvic bone (the "socket"). A new socket will be implanted on the pelvic bone through either of the aforementioned means. The doctors will then repair the muscles and tendons around the joint and sew up the wound. The whole procedure should take between one and three hours.

Pain medication will be applied intravenously after the surgery. The average patient will be in the hospital for two to three days.

Of course, there are some variations of this procedure. As previously noted, robotics can be used in surgery to help minimize both the incision and the damage to surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. Patients may also have what is known as a resurfacing. This is when the surgeon does not remove all the damaged bone, but instead removes damaged cartilage and "caps" both the ball and socket with smaller lining materials that allow the joint to operate more smoothly. This procedure is often performed on younger patients with strong, healthy bones.

If you are considering a hip replacement procedure, discuss all of these possibilities with your surgeon to ensure that you are getting the procedure that’s best for you.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  (June 2010).  Hip Resurfacing.  OrthoInfo.  Retrieved from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00586.

Hip Joint Replacement. (22 September 2011).  A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.  MedlinePlus.  Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002975.htm