The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball, at the top of your femur (thighbone) is called the femoral head. The socket, called the acetabulum, is a part of your pelvis. The ball moves in the socket, allowing your leg to rotate and move forward, backward and sideways.
In a healthy hip, soft-tissue called cartilage covers the ball and the socket to help them glide together smoothly. If this cartilage gets worn down or damaged, the bones scrape together and become rough. This condition, osteoarthritis, causes pain and restricts motion. An arthritic hip can make it painful to walk or even to get in or out of a chair. If you have been diagnosed with hip arthritis, you may not need surgery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or physical therapy may provide relief. But, if these efforts do not relieve symptoms, you should consult an orthopaedic surgeon.
During hip replacement, a surgeon removes the damaged sections of your hip joint and replaces them with parts usually constructed of metal, ceramic and very hard plastic. This artificial joint (prosthesis) helps reduce pain and improve function.
Also called total hip arthroplasty, hip replacement surgery might be an option for you if your hip pain interferes with daily activities and nonsurgical treatments haven’t helped or are no longer effective. Arthritis damage is the most common reason to need hip replacement.
Different types of hip replacement surgery
The 3 major types of hip replacement are:
The most common type of hip replacement surgery is called a total hip replacement (also called total hip arthroplasty). In this surgery, worn-out or damaged sections of your hip are replaced with artificial implants. The socket is replaced with a durable plastic cup, which may or may not also include a titanium metal shell. Your femoral head will be removed and replaced with a ball made from ceramic or a metal alloy. The new ball is attached to a metal stem that is inserted into the top of your femur.
How do you know if you need a hip replacement?
When your quality of life suffers due to hip pain, it may be time for hip replacement. Signs of declining quality of life include:
- Inability to get restful sleep because of pain
- Difficulty doing simple tasks such as getting dressed or climbing stairs
- Inability to fully participate in the activities you enjoy
- At first, your doctor may recommend other treatments such as medicine for pain or inflammation, walking aids, joint injections and physical therapy. If these measures do not relieve pain and stiffness, hip replacement surgery may be necessary to restore function and improve quality of life.
Dr Peter Smith, Mediclinic Milnerton, Cape Town
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