Hip dysplasia is the most common reason for a hip replacement before the age of fifty. So, activity level after this type of surgery is a frequent concern for people with hip dysplasia. The younger you are when you get an artificial hip, the longer it needs to last, and younger people are often engaged in vigorous activities that increase the stress on these artificial joints.
People older than fifty want to be active too. This is especially important for hip dysplasia patients because they aren’t as likely to have generalized arthritis that affects other joints. Hip replacement can greatly improve the activity level of most people with hip dysplasia because they feel so much better after the surgery.
Each person needs specific advice from his or her doctor, but there is some general information about sports and recreation after total hip replacement. Older reports showed that vigorous high-impact sports increased the wear and tear on artificial parts after joint replacement. This is one reason why some doctors advise against sports following joint replacement. However, newer more durable implant materials have helped considerably in this area. Improvements in surgical techniques have also helped artificial joints last longer so people can return to reasonable activities.
Almost all doctors agree that low impact sports are fine and should be encouraged after hip replacement. These are activities such as golf, swimming, bowling, pleasure horseback riding, stationery cycling, ballroom dancing, walking and low-impact aerobics.
High stress sports such as hockey, jogging, mogul skiing, soccer, gymnastics and rock climbing are usually discouraged after total hip replacement, but many people ignore their doctor’s advice and do these anyway. Those who participate in high-stress sports increase the chances that the artificial joints will wear out, break or loosen. The added risks of these high stress activities are difficult to measure because the failure rate of all total hips is amazingly low. Some research studies of people younger than fifty have shown that ten years after total hip replacement at least 19 out of 20 are still intact and working properly. That’s remarkably successful even though some of those people probably aren’t following their doctor’s advice about activity restriction.
The middle level of activity includes sports such as tennis, moderate snow skiing, recreational cycling, backpacking, and softball. These are a bit more controversial. We’ll discuss tennis specifically because it involves mid-level stress on the hips.
A study published in 1999 evaluated competitive recreational tennis players who returned to the sport after total hip replacement. They averaged playing three times a week including singles and doubles. Even though older surgical techniques had been used, only 4% needed additional surgery during the eight years of the study. Two thirds had no pain or stiffness during play, and almost all had regained their level of competitive play by seven months after hip replacement.
One very important point for those who plan to resume sports is the need to regain muscle strength. All the muscles around the hip joint should be strengthened before return to play. Strength and balance can help prevent injuries. Low vitamin D levels and inadequate sleep have also been correlated with poor balance and increased injury risk. So, proper rehabilitation is essential for those who want to resume activities after total joint replacement.
In summary, it’s impossible to give general advice about returning to sports after hip joint replacement for hip dysplasia, but return to recreational activities including tennis seems to be a reasonable goal for the majority of patients. The ability to return to highly competitive activities depends on age, type of artificial implant, surgical technique, athletic experience, and willingness to participate in vigorous rehabilitation. Your doctor can advise you best, but remember that hip replacement for hip dysplasia has some special considerations, so make sure your surgeon has experience with hip dysplasia in addition to understanding your recreational goals.