Total Hip Replacement Surgery: Does a Hip Replacement Ever Feel Normal?

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Welcome to a journey of transformation and renewal. As an orthopedic physical therapist with over four decades of experience, I have witnessed firsthand the profound impact of total hip replacement surgery. Patients often arrive at my clinic burdened by pain and mobility issues, eager to regain a sense of normalcy.

In this article, I will explore the pivotal question: “Does a hip replacement ever feel normal?” I will delve into the intricacies of the surgical procedure, the rehabilitation process, and the long-term outlook for those who have undergone this life-altering surgery.

Understanding Hip Replacement Surgery: What Should You Expect?

In my history of more than forty years of rehabilitating total hip replacement patients, I have seen countless patients go through hip replacement surgery, seeking relief from joint pain and to regain mobility.

When considering a hip replacement, it’s crucial to understand what lies ahead. This replacement surgery involves the removal of your natural hip joint and the installation of a prosthetic one. After the surgery, you’ll embark on a journey of healing and rehabilitation where the goal is to make your new hip feel as normal as possible.

Generally, the sensation in a hip replacement can vary from one patient to another, with some reporting a close-to-natural feel, while others notice a difference when compared to their original joint.

A common complaint I hear from my post-surgical total hip patients is: “It feels like they made my leg too long”.

Following up on this complaint many times I found through physical evaluation and standing imaging films that there was no leg length difference; it was just a feeling of the operated leg being longer.

Invertibility: within a week or so, that feeling of leg length discrepancy disappeared.
Thereafter, when hearing that complaint in the first few days after surgery, I likened it to the feeling I experienced after having a crown placed on a tooth; initially, it felt too high, but in a few days that feeling disappeared and the crown worked functionally correctly.

Most patients could relate to this experience, and their anxiety decreased.

As you recover, it’s important to know that the hip may feel different during various activities; however, with proper rehabilitation and time, many patients find they can return to their daily routines with less pain. While it’s possible you’ll remain aware of the replacement hip, the artificial joint is designed to emulate the function of a natural hip as closely as possible.

Your commitment to the recovery process and physical therapy is paramount to blending the new hip into the rhythm of your life.

Initial Recovery Phases: Does the Hip Feel Normal After Replacement Surgery?

After your hip replacement surgery, it’s important to set realistic expectations for the recovery process.

Initially, some swelling and initial pain at the joint are normal after hip replacement. This discomfort is the body’s natural response to the surgical procedure.

You’ll have pain after surgery, but it should incrementally diminish as days pass.
In my opinion, the majority of the pain is caused by swelling, and controlling the swelling in my total hip replacement patients has always resulted in significant pain reduction.
Read my article: Ice After Total Hip Replacement: A PT’s Complete Guide

During the initial phases of healing, you might wonder if the hip will ever feel quite “normal” again. The sensation post-hip replacement can be distinctive initially, with a mixture of relief from pre-surgical pain and the new sensations of postoperative healing. Patients often report a tight or foreign feeling in the hip, which is not unexpected.

As you progress through your recovery, the swelling will subside, and the pain at the joint will continue to lessen, fostering an environment for the hip to feel more natural. It’s essential to follow the protocols of your replacement surgery to facilitate optimal healing, and remember, patience is key.

The joint’s naturalization process is gradual, and it’s paramount to stay engaged with your rehabilitation to ensure the best outcome. Ultimately, many patients find that their hip replacement offers significant pain relief and improves their quality of life after a dedicated recovery period.

The Path to Recovery: How Long Until a Hip Replacement Feels Normal?

Embarking on the recovery process after a hip replacement surgery, patients often ask, “Will my new hip ever feel normal?” This question is at the heart of post-operative care and patient education.

Generally speaking, it takes six months for many to reach a point where the new joint begins to feel like part of their own body.

  • In the first three days, you will wonder if you made a mistake.
  • In the first three weeks, you will be very happy with your outcome and be functionally independent.
  • At the three-month mark, you will sometimes forget you had a total hip replacement.
  • At the six-month mark, you will have to stop and remember which hip was replaced.

During this recovery period, consistent progress with physical therapy and home exercises is critical. Although every patient’s recovery trajectory is unique, those who adhere to their prescribed rehabilitation plan may find that their replacement feels increasingly natural over time. 

Feeling normal hinges not only on the healing of tissues and muscles, but also on psychological adaptation to the new joint.

As a seasoned orthopedic physical therapist, I’ve observed that individuals who stay positive and actively engage in their recovery often report a more ‘normal’ sensation sooner. It is essential to acknowledge each milestone, as even minor improvements can signify that the hip replacement is successfully integrating with your body.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to recovery, but dedication to the recovery process will pave the way for your hip replacement to eventually feel as natural as it possibly can. Patience is crucial, give your body the time it needs to adapt to the replacement surgery, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how normal your hip can feel.

Post-Surgery Rehabilitation: What Do You Need to Do for a Successful Recovery?

Embarking on the recovery process after hip replacement surgery involves a commitment to certain practices that facilitate healing and restore function. It’s imperative to understand that the journey back to a sense of normalcy post-replacement surgery won’t be instantaneous, but with steadfast diligence to rehabilitation protocols, you should expect progressive improvements.

Initially, the notion of ‘normal’ may be redefined as you acclimate to the new hip replacement. During recovery, you’ll engage in specific exercises and activities tailored to strengthen the joint and improve flexibility. This rehabilitation stage is crucial; without it, the benefits of your hip replacement surgery may not be fully realized.

To optimize your recovery, it is vital to adhere to the regimen your healthcare provider outlines. It involves attending all physical therapy sessions, doing the exercises you’ve been taught, and being mindful of your body’s feedback.

Hamstring Curl
One of several home exercises after total hip replacement.

Read my article:
Post-Hip Replacement Exercise Guide: Most Important Exercise & Rehabilitation After Surgery

Moreover, you should monitor for any signs that warrant immediate medical attention, such as excessive swelling or pain. Remember, while you do have a new hip, the replacement’s success depends largely on your willingness to engage in the recovery process, and ultimately, your hip replacement can feel as normal as your dedication to recovery.

Navigating Hip Replacement Recovery: When Can You Resume Normal Activities?

Throughout the recovery process following hip replacement surgery, patients often inquire, “When can I get on with life as normal?” It’s an important question, and the answer varies based on individual progress and adherence to prescribed rehabilitation protocols.

Typically, the timeline to resume normal activities after a hip replacement can range from a few weeks to several months. Recovery after replacement surgery is unique to each patient, entailing a blend of rest, physical therapy, and gradual re-introduction of activities.

Returning to “Life as normal”, in my experience with the patients I have seen over the past decade, means that they are in functional recovery by the end of the third week and have returned to independence in Activities of Daily Living (ADL), including driving, if they are no longer using opioid medications for pain control.

Your body’s response to the new joint and how quickly you heal play significant roles in the recovery journey. Generally, you’ll start to notice improvements as you engage in the recovery plan designed to ensure your hip works well and feels as normal as possible.

Adhering strictly to your surgeon’s and physical therapist’s recommendations is essential for a successful recovery. They’ll guide you on the dos and don’ts, helping you gauge when you can safely return to activities without risking the success of your hip replacement. With time, dedication, and proper care, you’ll be able to do ordinary tasks seamlessly, indicating that your recovery is on track and your hip replacement is integrating well with your body.

Managing Expectations: What Is Considered Normal Pain After Hip Surgery?

Undergoing hip replacement surgery marks the beginning of a journey towards reclaiming mobility and quality of life. However, it’s important to understand that some swelling and initial pain at the joint are normal after hip replacement.

These normal postoperative sensations stem from the body’s natural healing response. In the immediate days following the procedure, it’s common to feel some pain as a result of the operation itself, including discomfort and stiffness in the affected area. This initial discomfort is indicative that there is pain after surgery, but it should gradually diminish with proper care and rehabilitation.

The extent and duration of this post-operative pain can vary among individuals, but effective pain management strategies can alleviate discomfort. Typically, patients should anticipate a reduction in pain levels within a few weeks of the operation, as the body heals and adjusts to the new hip joint.

In my experience of seeing total hip replacement patients in their homes after hospital discharge, most have experienced pain reduction from the usual initial report of pain being at 5-6 out of 10 with opioid medications to 3 out of 10 using only non-opioid pain medications by week three.

The exception to this are the Type A personality patients who do more than instructed in their home exercise and walking program, consequently causing a seven to ten day flare-up, delaying pain reduction on a normal timeline.

It’s crucial to maintain open communication with your healthcare provider regarding pain management and to adhere to prescribed protocols to facilitate a smoother recovery. When asking, ‘Does a hip ever feel normal?’, remember that while each person’s experience is unique, the goal of surgery is to return to a comfortable, active lifestyle.

With patience and appropriate rehab exercises, you can achieve a satisfying outcome where normal activities can resume without the hindering pain of a deteriorated hip.

Maintaining Your Hip Replacement: How Long Does a Replacement Last?

When considering a hip replacement, it’s quite common to ponder about the longevity of the replacement itself. Typically, a hip replacement surgery may promise a durable solution, often with prostheses that can last between 15 to 20 years, assuming there’s proper care and no complications.

Advances in the materials and techniques used in replacement surgery mean that the implanted device can withstand the daily rigors of use more robustly than ever before. However, individual factors such as a person’s activity level, weight, and general health can significantly influence the lifespan of a hip replacement.

It’s essential to follow a post-surgery rehabilitation plan rigorously to ensure the longevity of your hip replacements. Through careful management and adherence to your physical therapist’s guidance, you can help your replacement last as long as possible, feeling as normal as possible.

While the engineered joints may not replicate the exact sensation of your original hip, many patients report a significant improvement in pain and mobility post-recovery.
I have total hip patients who have returned to more strenuous activities than they thought possible, including skiing, horseback riding, and even golf.
Read my article:
Can I Play Golf After a Total Hip Replacement Surgery and Tips for Golfers

It’s important to note that ‘normal’ may have a new definition post-surgery, but with time, your replacement should allow you to resume normal activities with increased comfort and reduced limitations. So, remember, maintaining a hip replacement is a balancing act between activity, self-care, and monitoring for any signs of wear over time.

Factors That May Slow Down Hip Recovery: What Should You Look Out For?

Throughout my forty years as an orthopedic physical therapist, I’ve guided patients through the recovery process of hip replacement surgery, and it’s crucial to be aware of certain factors that might impede this recovery.

The initial phase following surgery should be focused on managing pain and preventing complications. You should watch for signs of infection or excessive swelling, as these can delay the healing process.

Adhering strictly to the rehabilitation plan is essential, and not doing so may slow down your recovery. It’s also important to understand the dedication needed for exercises and activities designed to strengthen the hip and improve mobility.

A hip replacement may never feel exactly the same as your natural joint, but with patience and proper care, the sensation can reach a new normal. Neglecting your doctor’s and physical therapist’s advice regarding activity restrictions, especially in the early phase of recovery,  can cause setbacks. If you do encounter obstacles, reach out to your healthcare team promptly.

Maintaining a positive outlook is imperative; recovery should be seen as a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, the longevity of your hip replacement relies heavily on how well you manage your recovery process. Should you encounter challenges, it’s vital to address them early to ensure the success of your hip replacement surgery.

Planning Your Second Hip Replacement: How Long Should You Wait?

As an expert in hip replacement surgery with decades of experience guiding patients through their recovery, I often address queries about the timing for a potential second hip replacement.

The decision hinges on various factors, including the performance and wear of your first hip replacement, overall health, and recovery progress. A replacement surgery isn’t a light matter; it requires careful deliberation alongside your medical team.

Generally, recovery from a hip replacement is a journey; with proper rehabilitation, patients may start enjoying a sense of normalcy, often within a few months post-surgery. However, before considering a subsequent replacement, it’s important for your operative hip to regain strength and stability.

In my experience with patients contemplating having the opposite hip replaced, the timeline most of my referring surgeons suggest is three months from the prior surgery.
Some surgeons will operate sooner, and I have seen several patients who have both hips replaced at the same time. I am surprised that their recovery time and progress are equivalent to the normal one hip at a time standard.

Determining the best time for another surgery, if needed, will factor in how your hip recovery is unfolding. While some individuals might consider a second replacement prematurely, due to discomfort or impatience, it’s crucial to allow sufficient time for the hip’s healing and adapt to the changes post-replacement.

Typically, a well-performing hip replacement can last 15 to 20 years, but if you’re experiencing persistent issues with function or discomfort that is not considered normal pain after replacement, consult your orthopedic physician. They’ll help evaluate whether the issues warrant another replacement surgery or if additional recovery time and rehabilitation might resolve the concerns.

Feeling Normal After Hip Replacement: How Does Recovery Progress?

After undergoing hip replacement surgery, it’s crucial to set realistic expectations for the recovery process.

Initially, it’s common to feel some pain as a result of the operation itself, which is an integral part of the healing journey. The pathway to feeling ‘normal’ again is gradual and varies from patient to patient. During the early stages of recovery, the focus is on managing discomfort and reducing inflammation. As the days progress, you’ll notice an improvement in mobility and a decrease in pain levels.

The definition of ‘normal’ can differ, but most patients aim to return to their daily activities without the hindering hip pain that necessitated the replacement surgery. In the rehabilitation phase, adhering to a structured physical therapy regimen is vital for a successful outcome. Exercises designed by your therapist not only facilitate recovery but also help in regaining strength and range of motion.

It’s important not to rush the process; each hip heals at its own pace. Full recovery, where the hip replacement feels close to your natural hip, can take several months. In my experience with my patients, most are functionally recovered in three weeks and feel “normal” in three months.

Feeling fully recovered after total hip replacement is very different from being fully recovered.

The body continues to remodel tissues, both soft tissue and bone, for up to eighteen months.
You can track your body’s progress to full recovery by observing the color of the surgical scar.
When the body is finished with the remodeling process, it will withdraw all the excessive blood vessels, and the scar will turn from pink to a natural skin color.

Staying patient and consistent with rehabilitation will optimize your chances of a favorable result. While there may be moments of discomfort and adjustment, many eventually find that their new hip allows them to resume normal activities and offers significant relief from the chronic pain they once experienced.

Your commitment to recovery can make all the difference in achieving a seamless transition to feeling normal again after hip replacement surgery.

Long-Term Outlook: Can Hip Replacement Surgery Eventually Feel Completely Normal?

After undergoing hip replacement surgery, many patients wonder whether they’ll ever feel normal again. It’s a common concern, considering the journey you’ve embarked on for improved mobility and pain relief.

Initially, it’s not uncommon for your new hip to feel different; it might not seem like part of you just yet. However, as you get on with life as normal following the surgery, your body typically adapts, allowing the sensations of the replacement to gradually diminish. The good news is that for most individuals, a hip replacement will indeed feel normal over time.

This adjustment period can vary, but a successful recovery usually results in a hip that feels a natural part of you. Active participation in post-surgery rehabilitation is key to a successful outcome, reaffirming the importance of dedicated effort to resume normal activities at the appropriate pace.

Although replacement surgery introduces a prosthetic joint to your body, advancements in the procedure and prosthetic design work in tandem to afford you a high likelihood of returning to a life free from the hindrances of hip pain. While managing expectations is essential, particularly regarding what is considered normal pain after the procedure, with proper care, your hip replacement can support a normal, active lifestyle for years to come.

Factors including your overall health and activity level influence recovery, but rest assured, returning to a feeling of normalcy after a hip replacement is a realistic and achievable goal.

Read my other articles about Total Hip Replacement

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Q: Does a hip replacement ever feel normal?
A: Yes, many patients report that their hip replacement feels normal after a period of healing and rehabilitation. It may take up to six months for the joint to start feeling like a part of their body. Adherence to physical therapy and positive engagement in the recovery process can significantly accelerate the feeling of normalcy.

Q: How long is the recovery process after a hip replacement before I can resume normal activities?
A: The recovery timeline varies among individuals, but it’s common for patients to resume normal activities within a few weeks to several months following surgery. Consistent progress with physical therapy and following your surgeon’s guidelines are crucial to a successful recovery.

Q: What should I expect immediately after hip replacement surgery in terms of pain and mobility?
A: It is normal to feel pain and experience swelling at the surgery site following your hip replacement. This discomfort typically lessens over the first few weeks as your body heals. It’s important to manage pain effectively and follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for a smoother recovery.

Q: How long does a hip replacement last, and how can I ensure its longevity?
A: A hip replacement can last between 15 to 20 years, often depending on patient factors such as activity level, weight, and general health. You can ensure the longevity of your hip replacement by adhering to prescribed rehabilitation protocols and following your physical therapist’s guidance on activities.

Q: What factors could delay my recovery after hip replacement surgery?
A: Recovery can be delayed by not adhering to your prescribed rehabilitation plan, neglecting pain and swelling management, or not properly engaging in the necessary exercises and activities to strengthen the joint. Infection and excessive swelling are potential complications that need immediate medical attention.


Dr. Donaldson is dually licensed; physical therapy in 1975 and doctor of chiropractic in 1995. He held credentials of Orthopedic Clinical Specialist in physical therapy for 20 years, QME in California, and taught at USC. He owns and operates an orthopedic physical therapy practice. See "About Me" page.

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