Total Hip Replacement Complications
By Patricia Walter Updated 6/1/2013
Total Hip replacement is an excellent option for hip deterioration, but there are always the possibilities of complications. Complications don’t happen often, but are still possible. There are methods to help prevent these complications.
The most common complication of hip surgery is blood clots. These are most often seen in the pelvis or leg veins. If these clots break free and make their way to your lungs, they can be life-threatening. After surgery, many things will be done to prevent clotting. Generally the following methods are used:
- blood thinning medications
- inflatable leg coverings
- early mobilization
- support hose or TEDS
- ankle pump exercises
Your new hip is pretty much the same as your original because it is a ball and socket joint. While the tissues, muscles and ligaments are still healing over the first few months, you are at the highest risk for dislocation. It is important to note that this complication is not common. Many people have a 90 degree rule meaning you don’t lift your thigh more than 90 degrees toward you upper body. If you experience a dislocation where the ball slips out, it can usually be put back into place without additional surgery. It requires a trip to the ER and can be very painful. If you have more than one dislocation, another surgery may be needed.
Infection is a risk with any kind of surgery. It can occur deep around the prosthesis or superficially in the incision. While infection generally occurs shortly after the surgery, when it occurs, there is the chance that it could happen years later. Antibiotics are used for more superficial infections. If the infection is in the prosthesis or is major, you may need another surgery to take care of it. Sometimes the hip device must be removed for a short period while the infection is treated. Then the hip device is replaced after the infection is gone.
Leg Length Differences
There is a chance that after total hip replacement surgery, you will have one leg shorter than the other. In some cases, this is unavoidable because of your surgeon working to maximize the biomechanics and stability of your new hip. After surgery, nothing can be done to physically even out your legs. However, heel lifts are helpful for many patients. You may also be able to get help through physical therapy.
Wear of Hip Device
Your prosthesis could wear out or loosen over the years. This is generally because of everyday activity. A condition called osteolysis could also play a role. This is characterized by the bones biologically thinning. If your prosthesis loosens and this causes pain, you may need a revision surgery. Normally, the femur component becomes loose in the stem area of the femur component. The component is stabilized by the bone growth around the components, the acetabular cup in the hip and the stem of the femur component in the femur bone.
Pushing Recovery too Fast
Most people recover well and are active and out of pain after their recovery. Most of the recovery takes about 6 months while it takes a full year for the hip to heal completely. Returning to a normal life takes longer for some patients than others. If you have been limping or on a cane or crutches for months or years, it will take your body more time to heal and try to return to normal. There are a lot of muscles involved which must be trained to be normal again. The majority of people have excellent recoveries. Patience is probably the most important part of the recovery period, particularly if you are having a quick and easy recovery. Don’t be fooled by how well you feel, your body must heal and if you push too hard, it will complain. Swelling and pain can return. Then recovery takes even longer. Take it easy in the beginning and listen to your body.
Complications are a risk with every surgery. Hip replacement surgery is a major surgery and there are some major complications to be aware of. Your surgeon will explain what to do and what not to do. He/she will tell you when it is time to become more active and not worry about a dislocation. You should be aware of preventative strategies before having your surgery. It is always good to discuss this with your surgeon. Reading personal stories from other patients are very informative about what they did wrong or right and the consequences.