Have you or a loved one had a single or double hip replacement? As you or they near the end of rehab, you may be wondering what’s next. Some hip replacement patients are eager to get back to the gym to resume a beloved activity, such as a dance class with all their friends or a yoga class with a favorite instructor. Other patients may not love to exercise, but are highly motivated to get back to the gym to work toward the weight-loss goals that were put on hold by their injury. A third group of hip replacement patients hasn’t worked out in many years, and may be too scared of reinjury to even get started at the gym—the one place they could accelerate their recovery. Here are some simple tips for a seamless transition from rehab into exercise.
Go the distance. Many patients assume rehab is “done” once they’re out of pain, but you’re not really finished until you’ve regained at least as much strength, balance, and flexibility as you had before the surgery. (After all, the goal of having the surgery was to get better, not stay the same.) Even if you feel fine and think you may not need all the sessions, you will be doing yourself a huge favor by getting the maximum PT visits your insurance will allow. This will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration down the road. After discharge, it’s time to start thinking about how to get back to exercise or your sport.
Stay in touch with your orthopedist and PT even after you’re discharged. Questions that never occurred to you while you were in PT will suddenly dawn on you once you start going to the gym on your own. And if you ever choose to work with a personal trainer or take a group exercise class, you’ll need to share your PT’s phone or email address with the instructor so that there can be continuity of care.
Learn to trust your “new” hip again. Many older patients are afraid to use the operated side (which they may call the “bad” side), due to concerns over reinjury. For example, they may continue to take a bus for a few blocks rather than walking, or may take an elevator instead of the stairs…months or years after the surgery! As long as you are following your doctor’s or PT’s recommendations on what exercises to keep away from (i.e. they may tell you to avoid hip rotation stretches that involve crossing your legs), you should be okay returning to your daily activities. Younger hip replacement patients often get back to everything they want to do, including playing sports. Older hip replacement patients often resume walking their dog, yoga, swimming, or gardening. Having a hip replacement makes you the bionic woman (or man)! Your “new” hip should be just as durable (if not more so) than the non-operated side.
Don’t ignore the rest of your body. Most patients in PT only work on strengthening or stretching the hip; some may include balance exercises as well. However, if you’ve been in PT for 6 months, that’s 6 months that you probably haven’t been stretching or strengthening your arms…or core…or doing any cardio. (And it’s sadly very common for older hip surgery patients to have been away from any type of exercise for years.) Begin to gradually incorporate strength moves for the core and arms, plus full-body stretches into your gym or home routine.
Pay attention to pain. While most patients feel better after a hip replacement, some still have pain…even after completing rehab. Pain is your body’s way of speaking to you, so don’t ignore it. If you currently need pain medication, that’s okay as a short-term strategy, but it has to be part of a bigger plan. If insurance won’t allow you to return to your physical therapist, explore other options such as a chiropractor or massage therapist. You don’t have to stay in pain!!! There are many conventional and alternative healthcare providers who would love to help you get better.
Get visual feedback. When working out alone, it can be hard to determine if your form is correct, even if you’re looking in a mirror. For example, are your knees going past your toes when you squat? Is your back neutral when you try to hold a plank? Going to a small group strength training class, a small yoga class, working with a personal trainer, or simply going to the gym with a friend are all far better options than going by yourself. A friend or instructor can let you know when your posture is slipping, reduce risk of reinjury, and help you stay motivated on days when you don’t feel like showing up.
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