Hip replacement surgery is generally safe, but as with any surgery, complications can occur. Although some complications are serious, most can be treated successfully. Complications of hip replacement include:

  • Blood clots. Clots can form in your leg veins as a result of decreased leg movement after surgery, as well as from pressure on the veins during surgery. Your doctor usually gives you blood-thinning medications after your surgery to try to prevent clots from forming. Compression devices, such as elastic stockings, and exercise to increase blood flow through the veins in your legs also can reduce your risk.
  • Infection. Infections can occur at the site of your incision and in the deeper tissue near your new hip. Most infections are treated with antibiotics, but a major infection near your prosthesis may require surgery to remove and replace the prosthesis.
  • Fracture. During surgery, healthy portions of your hip joint may fracture. Sometimes the fractures are so small that they heal on their own, but larger fractures may be corrected during surgery with wires, cables or bone grafts.
  • Dislocation. Certain positions can cause the ball of your new joint to become dislodged. To avoid this, it is often recommended that after surgery you don't bend more than 90 degrees at the hip and don't let your leg cross the midline of your body. If the hip dislocates, your doctor may fit you with a brace to keep the hip in the correct position. If your hip keeps dislocating, surgery is often required to stabilize it.
  • Loosening. Although this complication is rare with newer implants, your new joint may not become solidly fixed to your bone or may loosen over time, causing pain in your hip. Surgery might be needed to fix the problem.
  • Breakage of the prosthesis. Another rare possibility is that your artificial hip could break several years after surgery. Another surgery would be required to replace the broken joint.
  • Change in leg length. Your surgeon takes steps to avoid the problem, but occasionally a new hip may make one leg longer or shorter than the other. Sometimes this is caused by weakness in the muscles surrounding the hip. In this case, progressively strengthening and stretching those muscles can make the hip more stable.
  • Joint stiffening. Sometimes the soft tissues around your joint harden (called ossification), making it difficult to move your hip. This usually isn't painful. If you're at risk of ossification, your doctor may recommend medications or radiation therapy to prevent it.
  • Wear and tear over time. Your prosthetic hip joint may wear out eventually, so if you have hip replacement surgery when you're relatively young and active, you may need a second hip replacement within your lifetime. However, new materials are making implants last longer, so a second replacement may not be needed for many years.
Apr. 19, 2011