Hip Replacement at a Young Age – A personal account

A personal account of having a hip replacement at a young age. Covering how to cope emotionally, research, key questions, equipment and recovery.

I was 28 years old when I was told by an orthopaedic surgeon that I needed a total left hip replacement, due to having Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) from the age of one. I was experiencing chronic pain in my left hip, reduced mobility and was using a walking aid for further support. My cartilage had been completely worn and the damage in my hip was irreversible. My only option was a total left hip replacement. After the initial shock had eased, I really struggled to accept what was happening to me. I kept feeling as though I was about to lose a part of me and I had no control in the matter.

YiotaWhat I have now come to realise is that I have been given something far better than I previously had: a pain free, more flexible joint. Being young and faced with this operation, I felt as though nobody could personally relate to what I was going through, as it’s quite uncommon at a young age. A treasured part of coping emotionally was having a young volunteer, provided by NRAS, call me personally. They offered me all their personal experience and support, as they were once having the same fears and anxieties as myself. I would recommend anyone in a similar situation to contact relevant charities, support groups and online forums to find people that can relate to you personally. Their first hand experience and advice could be so valuable to you. Your hospital may also be able to provide you with this information.

Hip replacement research and key questions

I would urge all patients to research the key facts about having a hip replacement at a young age and write a list of questions to present to your orthopaedic surgeon. I was reassured once I researched all key facts regarding having a hip replacement and also finding an orthopaedic surgeon that specifically specialised in hips for younger patients. I researched the types of materials used in a hip replacement, the recovery period and facts about the operation. It is also an advantage being younger, as it is most likely that you will recover far quicker and you will have the strength to do so.

Key questions to present to your surgeon may include:
•    What type of hip replacement do I need?
•    What materials or combination of materials will be used?
•    Will they use cement?
•    Will they be less invasive due to my age?
•    Is an Arthroscopic procedure possible?
•    Will I need stitches or staples?
•    Will my leg length be affected?

Feel confident to ask any question regarding the whole procedure, as the more you know, the more prepared and reassured you will feel. Personally, family support, key research, NRAS Volunteers and the trust and confidence built with my surgeon were the key factors in helping me come to terms with the events in my life. Ensure you do and say whatever will help ease your doubts and anxieties at this point.

Hip replacement recovery, equipment and exercise

Prior to having my hip replacement, I met with a physiotherapist who discussed the movements and exercises that I would need after the operation. These are a vital part of your recovery so make them a personal priority for the following 6 months after the hip replacement operation. The physiotherapist will also introduce all the necessary equipment needed at home and can arrange for those to be in place before returning home. These include:

•    A raised toilet seat
•    Raised chair legs
•    Bath board
•    Long-handled shower sponge
•    Hand grabber
•    Long-handled shoe horn
•    Secure rails where needed
•    Walking aid or crutches

This equipment is so valuable in order to prevent bending or sitting too low, which could cause dislocation to the new prosthetic (artificial) hip joint. Personally, I also slept with a pillow between my knees to avoid crossing the legs and thus preventing any damage. In addition, hydrotherapy sessions, which involves exercise in warm water, greatly helped during my recovery. I contacted all local leisure centres that contained a hydrotherapy pool and obtained their timetable to find a class that was specifically designated to patients who had recent surgery or arthritic joint problems. This is something that can be researched before your operation.

Personal tips and advice

Following my hip replacement, I obtained a letter from the orthopaedic surgeon, on hospital headed paper, explaining that I have had a total left hip replacement and this in turn may set off airport security alarms or metal detectors. Due to being young, many security guards at airports or stores are reluctant to believe your reasons and so I suggest obtaining evidence to any young person having surgery.

Continue with your exercise and hydrotherapy whenever possible. Pilates is also a great form of exercise as it is low impact on the joints. Look after your wound by regularly changing the dressing, keeping it clean and using Bio-oil or similar creams, which work to reduce the appearance of scars. Finally, try not to limit yourself or hold back on your ambitions and dreams. I count my blessings that I had a condition that could be ‘fixed’. I am extremely careful and cautious of having a prosthetic hip, as it will automatically become embedded in your mind; however it also makes me view things in a different light, as though I’ve been given a second chance. Look to being young as your personal advantage. You will have the determination and strength to recover quicker and perform your exercises to your full potential.

To anyone reading this article who is awaiting or has undergone a total hip replacement, I hope this has helped ease your mind and has been of some use. Ensure you know all the key facts, ask all the necessary questions and prepare for your recovery. I wish you all the best.

Autumn 2012 by Yiota Marie Orphanides