Vail health: Take your new hip to the slopes
December 13, 2011
The number of hip replacement surgeries performed each year is expected to double by 2030 and the money spent on these operations is expected to reach more than 60 billion by 2015. A total hip replacement is a surgical procedure in which your problematic hip joint is replaced with artificial parts, creating a new ball and socket joint. Hip replacement can benefit individuals suffering from a variety of hip problems. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, avascular necrosis and traumatic injury are just a few examples of conditions that can lead you down the path to having this surgical procedure. The goals of hip replacement are to relieve pain, improve mobility, gain flexibility and restore the overall function of the hip joint.
Orthopedic researchers and doctors are continuously looking at ways to improve total hip replacement procedures. More precise placement of implants, increased durability and functionality of parts and a less invasive approach have all helped to advance this surgical process. With advancement comes function. Most people who undergo a total hip replacement experience a dramatic reduction of hip pain, see considerable improvements in daily activities and, depending on age and previous activity level, many are able to return to recreational sport participation. Completing a three-phase rehab program after surgery with a physical therapist can give you the best chance of returning to your previous activity level. These three phases begin immediately after surgery. Phase one is protection and mobility, phase two is strengthening and stability and phase three is return to daily activities and sport. How quickly one progresses after surgery varies based on surgical approach, healing timelines and precautions as well as the previous condition of the muscles.
The 2011-’12 ski season is approaching rapidly, and it might have some of you questioning if you can hit the slopes after a hip replacement. While I want to just say “yes,” a few things need to be in place before you get your skis tuned. Clearance from your doctor is the most important; every person and every surgery is different. Discussing the intensity of skiing is also key. Find out if there are any precautions and make sure your new joint can take the stresses and loads you wish to place on it. Just because you were jumping off Lovers Leap last winter doesn’t mean your new ball and socket joint is up for the challenge this winter.
Once your doctor has given you the green light to hop on the chair lift, you want to ask yourself if your muscles are ready. Whether you are just finishing the end of your rehab or if you have had a hip replacement years ago, it’s important that the muscles surrounding your hip joint are strong and stable enough to withstand the demands of skiing. Maintaining your strength by performing maintenance exercises can aid in joint protection. The exercises below are a few examples of maintenance exercises that will target several muscle groups, all of which help to stabilize your joint. A physical therapist can help design an individual maintenance program for you that might include double leg knee bends, static lunge holds, double leg bridges and standing leg lifts.
Once you have been cleared by your doctor and your muscle strength is up to par, it is important to ease back into athletic activity. When returning to skiing, think about the types of runs, intensity in which you will ski them, how long you will stay out on the mountain and how many times per week you wish to ski. You want to build up your endurance; start easy. Work on balance and edge control on green runs and then progress to blue runs when you feel comfortable. Build up speed as you become more confident. An example of a good starting point would be green to blue runs, at 50 percent intensity, for two to three hours, two to three times per week. You can gradually ramp up the intensity, frequency and duration as your body adjusts.
As the medical world continues to evolve, more and more people will have the chance to live the life they’ve always wanted, for longer. With the advancements made thus far, people undergoing total hip replacement procedures are returning to a pain-free lifestyle and participating in higher levels of activities than ever before. Talk with your doctor, prepare your body and take your new hip to the slopes!
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Lindsay Winninger is a physical therapist at Howard Head Sports Medicine specializing in hip joint rehabilitation. Winninger has been with Howard Head since 2008 and is originally from Iowa. She received her undergraduate degree in exercise science/psychology and her master’s degree in physical therapy from St. Louis University. Email comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.