December 11, 2020

Before total hip replacement surgery: A conditioning program

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Getting regular exercise before hip replacement surgery will make recovery easier.

Conditioning your body before a hip replacement can help speed your recovery. Daily exercise helps strengthen muscles that support the hip joint.

Aerobic activity (exercise that raises your heart rate) can improve fitness. It can also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight, reducing stress on your hip. Before beginning any exercise program, talk with your healthcare provider about the types of exercise that are best for you. Your provider may suggest specific moves that will be particularly helpful for your individual circumstances.

Exercise may seem intimidating to someone coping with pain in the hip joint, so a common reaction is to avoid movement as much as possible. But gentle yet regular exercise keeps the whole body strong, and that’s especially important for the muscles supporting the hips. Being in better shape going into surgery will also make your recovery go more smoothly.

“The best option for exercise, despite a painful hip, are low-impact aerobic exercises,” said Steve Engstrom, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“I usually rank them from least impact to highest: Swimming, cycling, elliptical (machine), walking, running,” he said. “However, any activity that provides good aerobic work but is well tolerated by the patient is excellent.”

Low-impact exercise

Low-impact exercise can help improve your fitness with less stress on the hip joint. As Engstrom suggested, try swimming, water aerobics, walking or riding a stationary bicycle. It’s normal to feel a little discomfort in your hip joint. But stop any exercise that causes increasing pain. You can also ask your healthcare provider or physical therapist about ways to manage pain during exercise.

Pool exercise

If you have access to a swimming pool, use it! Working out in the water is a gentle way to exercise muscles. It can also improve balance and coordination. A physical therapist may work with you in a pool therapy program. You can also try pool walking on your own. Stand in waist- to chest-deep water with your arms out to the sides. Then slowly walk forward. To avoid overdoing it, ask your physical therapist how long to exercise. He or she can also give you tips on pool safety.

Contact your healthcare provider if any exercise causes increasing pain or swelling in your hip; if you’re not sure how to do an exercise correctly and safely; or if you need help learning to use your walker or crutches.

If you are dealing with an injury, facing surgery or coping with chronic pain, Vanderbilt Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of care. Our specialists work with you from evaluation and “prehab” through physical therapy and, if needed, surgery. We’ll help you get back to doing the things you love, pain-free. To make an appointment, call 615-936-7846.

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Stephen M. Engstrom, M.D.

Stephen M. Engstrom, M.D., is assistant professor in the Vanderbilt Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He specializes in adult orthopedic care, including joint replacement surgery. He graduated from University of Connecticut School of Medicine, did his residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and his fellowship training at Washington University Medical Center.