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When Should I Get a Hip Replacement?

Having hip replacement surgery can feel like a major undertaking. But it has the potential to drastically improve your quality of life.


Our hip joints are protected by a cushion of connective tissue known as cartilage. As we age, the cartilage that cushions our hip joints wears down. As the cartilage wears away it can lead to arthritis and other common conditions that eventually result in end-stage joint disease.

When hip joint cartilage weakens to the point of bone-on-bone contact you will more than likely know it by the increased pain and decreased mobility. Hip replacement surgery performed by an orthopaedic surgeon is a proven way to relieve hip pain and restore mobility.

During hip replacement surgery, an orthopaedic surgeon replaces one or both ends of the damaged hip joint with artificial parts. These parts may be metal on plastic or ceramic on plastic. The goal of hip replacement surgery is to minimize pain so you can resume regular activity.

What conditions lead to hip replacement?

The most common condition that leads to hip replacement is arthritis.

“More specifically, it’s the degeneration of the cartilage of the hip joint that results in the need for a hip replacement,” says Craig Moe, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at The Iowa Clinic’s West Des Moines campus. “And a common symptom of hip joint degeneration is hip or groin pain.”

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and traumatic arthritis can all affect the hip. Avascular necrosis is another common hip problem that can lead to bone loss and the need for a hip replacement.

“Really the time for a hip replacement is whenever you reach a point where the pain is interfering with your quality of life,” says Dr. Moe. “Whenever that pain is stopping you from doing what you want to do to be happy, such as hanging out with your grandkids, working or being active.”

Is there a recommended age for hip replacement?

Many people think of hip replacement surgery as only being an option for older adults. That logic still mostly checks out. According to Dr. Moe, most of the patients he performs hip replacement surgery on are age 60 and above. A typical hip replacement lasts around 18 to 20 years. So if you get a hip replacement too young then you risk needing another surgery down the road.

“The youngest person I’ve performed a hip replacement on was in their late 50s,” says Dr. Moe. “The thought process has kind of changed over time. In the past, waiting until you were 65 or above was much more common. Truth is, pain affects quality of life, regardless of age.”

Dr. Moe adds that hip replacement technology continues to improve over time. So that means even if you do need another surgery later, the parts used will be better than ever before. There is the added benefit of faster recovery time and a better outcome if you have surgery earlier.

What to expect at your orthopaedic appointment.

The first thing an orthopaedic surgeon will do when someone has symptoms of degenerative joint disease in the hip, such as pain, tenderness, or stiffness, is perform a hip assessment. Your physician will order an X-ray to determine the exact location and severity of degeneration.

“That’s usually where I’ll determine how bad the situation is,” says Dr. Moe. “During the assessment, I’ll examine the person to get an idea of range of motion and other things that we typically look for. And then we’ll develop a game plan from there in terms of next steps.”

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The goal of this type of hip examination is to determine whether you qualify for surgery. Once a doctor explains the actions you can take, it’s up to the patient to make the final decision.

“There are some people who are at the end of their rope in pain and just want to have surgery as soon as possible,” says Dr. Moe. “Other people need time to think about it and return later.”

For those patients who decide to schedule hip surgery as soon as possible, the Iowa Clinic has an on-site scheduling team that will help you set up a date and a time for surgery. Dr. Moe says the pandemic has made scheduling a little harder, but a typical wait time is about 2 months.

How complex is hip replacement surgery?

Hip replacement surgery is a complex procedure. Your doctor may recommend either a total or partial hip replacement based on several different factors. Every situation is a little different.

“The nice thing about hip replacement surgery is that the patient can expect almost immediate relief,” says Dr. Moe. “The pain that brings them into surgery is almost better immediately.”

This sense of immediate relief is common among hip replacement patients, especially those who have been living with severe pain or mobility issues. They wake up and the pain is gone.

What is the recovery time like for a hip replacement?

Recovery time will vary from person-to-person based on things like severity of the situation, a person’s age and their activity levels before and after surgery. There are a lot of factors at play.

“Some patients are actually up and walking a day after surgery,” says Dr. Moe. “However, the majority of patients walk with the assistance of a walker for a week or so. On average, I would say that most people are back to walking with no assisted devices after about three weeks.”

The more active and involved you are during the recovery process the better the long-term results of hip replacement surgery. That’s why having surgery earlier can be beneficial.

I think I need a hip replacement. What now?

Dr. Moe notes that it is easy to get caught up doing research online. Doctors will say they have different treatments or better technology, but it’s best to not get too hung up on that aspect. Far too often there is little research or evidence available to support the claims you find online.

What is most important is to find a surgeon that you can get to know and trust. At The Iowa Clinic, your orthopaedic surgeon is going to be there for you from the first assessment to post-op.

“You’re essentially committing to a surgeon for the long haul,” says Dr. Moe. “When you make your decision based on who is claiming to use the latest and greatest methods out there, you’re falling short of what’s best for yourself. It’s better to find a surgeon you really like and trust.”

“Building a relationship and being comfortable with your surgeon is key,” he adds.

The first step to addressing your hip problems is to set up an appointment. The Iowa Clinic offers specialized orthopaedic care within its West Des Moines and Ankeny campuses.

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