Hip replacement recovery, limping along in weeks 3 to 7 (Part 6)

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The hip replacement recovery of a middle-aged man from week 3. Things become more manageable, and you begin to appreciate the benefits. See also some key pointers for people going through the same, but it’s definitely worth doing!

Week 3: Mobility returned

During week 3 independence continued to return. I was using aids but mostly by myself, which made me feel like normal. Or as normal as I normally felt.

I remained on two crutches as the physio had asked in order to keep me straight. I wasn’t sure crutches could work that wonder, but they did at least keep me upright.

However the walks were getting longer and I needed less help from my willing band of buddies. Now I was meeting them out and about. Into town for a full English brunch? Yep, could do that. I was positively racing along on my two crutches, although still needing a bit of a break when I got back home.

The end of the week coincided with a holiday in the Lake District with a large group of friends. The physio had warned of the perils of sitting too long in a car, so I let my wife drive the six hours, and demanded leg stretching stops every couple of hours. I had a cushion and a pillow for support. As it turned out it was fine. Well for me anyway. I slept for most of it.

Hip replacement recovery in the Lake District

To begin with I remained on two crutches, partly because I didn’t want to slip over in the torrential rain and wind as Storm Dennis hit. Also as I started back on the alcohol for the first time in almost four weeks, I wanted to make sure that any wobbles were controlled.

Initially my friends were all sympathetic. This meant not going to the bar, getting teas or coffees and generally doing anything at all. As a reward I showed them my scar. As it turns out, people don’t really want to see where you’ve been hacked open. Luckily they remained my friends.

I had brought the full aid kit with me – shoe horn, sock device, toilet seat and grabber – as I was supposed to be cautious about bending down and picking things up. However I was now getting on the floor to do exercises, even it was a gentle and slow process getting down and back up.

Out and about it was amazing how kind people were when they saw me hobbling on two crutches. (Well in the north anyway. London is a different beast, see later). Around Windermere tables were freed, doors opened and crutch-buddies made.

On day 28 I managed 10,000 steps for the first time. Admittedly it was on two crutches, but even so an achievement. In the spirit of recovery and continuing to boost my iron levels following the operation and blood loss, I had a couple of pints of Guinness.

Week 4: Two crutches to one

On day 30 I had a moment of “did too much” when we walked up a hill in Grasmere. Coming back down I was absolutely knackered, and could hardly walk along the road. I had to have a quiet moment in the car with my eyes shut. I’m not sure whether this was a blood issue, or just trying to do too much with the crutches. Either way it served as a reminder to take it a bit easier.

Walking with two crutches requires 25% more effort than walking normally. [Fool]

My surgeon, after I told him this story
Carrot cake is a hip replacement recovery must
Keswick carrot cake

By the end of the week on day 32 I was comfortable using one crutch. Certainly around the house and outside for smaller walks. Sympathy levels fell when people realised I could now carry cups and glasses, and actually it was only my hip that was the problem not my hands.

I took a stroll into Keswick for coffee and cake, which was probably over an hour’s worth of crutch work. I used the two crutches when out and about, but some of it was a confidence issue. Plus both physio and consultant had said it was no bad thing as it would help with posture and crutch-free walking in the mid-term. They were both keen I didn’t end up with a limp, or putting too much pressure on one side. Tall and straight was the aim.

Friday, day 33, the drugs are done

The trip back home was six hours again in the car. I think I could have driven at this point but it was a bit uncomfortable and I’m not sure how fast I could have got out had I crashed. It was still all about me.

Back at home and the week ended on day 34 with me walking across the kitchen unaided, concentrating on not limping and not waddling. There was no pain in the left hip, just a feeling of tightness which might have been the swelling, or just the muscles beginning to stretch and move again.

The drugs also came to an end. This was a godsend for my digestive system, as anyone who’s been on iron tablets can testify. Let’s just say black was no longer the in colour.

The use of the other aids was also coming to an end. Cushions were returned to their rightful places, the toilet seat was consigned to a wardrobe, which meant it was only socks and shoes requiring assistance. And that was for one foot only.

The physio exercises (plank, one leg raise, standing on one leg) were still a bit tricky, but as each day went on they became easier.

Week 5: One crutch to none

This was a week of real progress. Well in hip replacement recovery terms anyway.

Actually I say that, but my physio was unimpressed by my walking style with one crutch, pointing out the skewed way my body compensated for the weak leg. “Stop waddling” was one instruction. “Think about how you walk” was another.

Further exercises were added to get me walking straight without a limp, and a recommendation to continue with one, if not two crutches occasionally, to ensure I remained straight and upright. A good tip is to watch yourself in a mirror. It’s amazing when you think you’re walking normally, you’re most definitely not. If you haven’t a convenient mirror and have a child that’s even better. They just say “walking weirdly there Dad”. Thanks all.

Back on the (exercise) bike

The physio also wasn’t impressed with my backside either, saying it needed a lot of strengthening. The swelling was going down but was still a noticeable size. Oh, for those glutes of iron I used to have. Not.

Back in the gym as part of hip replacement recovery
Back in the gym, and on the exercise bike

He did get me on an exercise bike though, which meant 5 weeks and two days after the hip replacement surgery I returned to the gym. Twenty minutes gentle cycling was enough, but it meant I had driven, walked and exercised all in one morning.

I also walked to the pub that evening with the one crutch. I had Guinness (or two) in a nod to keeping up an iron rich diet, and managed to get home without falling over. Something I had sometimes failed to achieve pre-operation, but that was nothing to do with my hip.

Day 38. Consultant visit and sign-off.

The consultant sign-off was brief and to the point.

Basically, “lay on the bed, flex, twist and hey presto you’re fixed”. Well, the joint was in place and unlikely to dislocate. Now it was case of getting confidence back and overcoming the muscle damage. Interestingly, the consultant’s view was that it was confidence that would be the biggest barrier. Having spent 6 weeks protecting the hip it’s difficult to accept that suddenly you can tie your shoelaces without breaking your newly installed hip joint.

Hip recovery consultant letter
Signed off by the consultant

With that I was signed-off. No problem returning to work or getting back to activity. He did say not to rush too much and keep the focus on posture and strength, with the side leg raises his favourite exercise.

In celebration I went off for another Guinness in the pub. The consultant thought my blood levels should be back to normal by now, so in reality it was more a celebratory beer than a healthy snack.

Day 40: Night out in London

This was a busy day, starting with going to a funeral. There I was the poster boy for hip operations among the older generation. I certainly wasn’t the odd one out. Most had a stick of some description and could feel my pain, had had the same operation and all had stories of operations and recovery similar to mine.

To avert the middle age angst, I then headed into town to watch a band at the Union Chapel with some friends. The Lounge Kittens did their thing, but I couldn’t do mine as standing for too long, and dancing were still too much of a stretch. I was offered disabled access, but thought that it was a bit of a cheek considering I was so young and fit.

Lounge Kittens provide a distraction in hip replacement recovery
Lounge Kittens provide some distraction in hip recovery process

Anyway, I managed to negotiate the tube and train get home, which was a great trial run for starting my new job on the Monday.

Over 9,000 steps, a bit of a bob to the music, and train travel. Great day. Apart from the funeral.

Week 6: Back to work. And limping along.

So six weeks ago I had the hip replacement operation and was unemployed.

Six weeks later and I was on a train heading into London to start a new job, new hip in place.

By now I was walking without a crutch at home but for my first day I took a crutch to the office. It was more of a social experiment in whether people would take notice and give me some sympathy. To be fair there was a mixture of both. From someone accidentally kicking my crutch away as they ran for the train, to the security guard at the new company carrying everything for me as his wife was on crutches and knew how hard it was.

I wouldn’t be on one for long though. I now had a trusty collapsible walking stick!

Day 45. Goodbye crutches. Hello stick.

The physio finally relented and let me go crutch free and suggested walking with a stick. I now just looked old, rather than sickly, which I wasn’t sure was an improvement.

Collapsible walking stick for hip replacement recovery
Collapsible walking stick, the final aid

I could now walk a distance without any aid, and did 30 mins on the static bike in the gym alongside some other exercises. The weird thing was lying on my side on the operated hip. It was still swollen and just felt odd when I laid on it. Not painful, just odd.

I could also say, in my limited experience, people are even less concerned for your well-being when you have a walking stick instead of a crutch. As someone powered into me on the way to the station, I was glad I could now stand on my own two feet. I was beginning to think I might just use the stick to beat rude commuters with instead.

Day 47. Hungover and tired.

After another night in the pub enjoying a medicinal Guinness I decided it was time to ditch the stick for longer walks too. I managed to get around the block and into town, but found myself limping towards the end which would have made my physio cringe. I guess that’s why the stick was useful. He obviously knew a thing or two about hip replacements.

Hip replacement scar
Swelling almost gone, just the scar remains

Also sitting for a longer periods caused me to roll out of chairs rather than stand up “normally”. Apparently that’s usual and would pass eventually. I had had someone slice open my backside I guess.

To strengthen those glutes I was now averaging 30 mins on the bike and then doing the planks, hip raises and more on the floor in the gym, plus some additional exercises at home.

Reached seven weeks. Almost a normal Sunday.

Seven weeks in, the sun came out and I went to the gym, walked around town and even did a bit of gardening. Life was now pretty much back to normal.

The stick was an occasional help, socks were still difficult (definitely invest in a sock device) and I couldn’t stand for a long time. However it had been a journey as Simon Cowell says, and well worth the effort. In the long run. When I can run, that is.

Key things to consider in hip surgery recovery, weeks 4-7

At this point, 7 weeks in, I would say in terms of hip replacement recovery:

Hip replacement recovery Twitter buddy
I followed @HippySpen every step of his journey
  • Putting on socks is still difficult, as my leg won’t bend that far. With continued strength exercises this will improve.
  • Using a stick does help with posture, and does make you look old rather than infirm. Don’t expect sympathy though.
  • Exercising makes you realise the old hip pain has gone, and how much you can do/
  • Don’t rush. It’s amazing that most days there’s an improvement, and when you think about it you have had a major op so walking normally 6 weeks later is quite cool.
  • When you get back to work no one will really care what you had done. Be prepared for quick conversation changes as you start to describe your operation, especially when it involves blood and vomiting.
  • Keep following your social media buddies. It will help you realise that your recovery is the same as others. Thanks to @HippySpen who I followed on Twitter every step of the way.
  • The swelling takes ages to go. Even now, seven weeks in it’s still swollen, albeit not quite as noticeable as before.
Hip replacement patient
The day after, recovery underway

So there you go. 7 weeks on and now people might not even know I’ve had an operation. I’m walking better, bending more and generally feeling myself. The next few weeks and months are all about strengthening and getting back to the activities I want to do.

It feels a long time since I was poorly post op, but certainly it’s all been worthwhile, and as everyone told me beforehand I should have done it sooner, but then again, I was too young.

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