Should Seniors Return to Running After Hip Replacement?


January 3, 2016

What Science Says About Running After Hip Replacement Surgery

This is a question with no right or wrong answer unfortunately, and it primarily depends on varying individual factors as to what type of answer you might receive from your doctor. Typically in a laboratory setting, testing is carried out by exposing the prosthesis to clinically calculated amount of force and duration to determine its wear rate. But, in the real world the wear and tear the prosthesis is exposed to is essentially unknown when a patient returns to running after hip replacement surgery.

The studies that have been conducted on the subject are very limited, for example a 2014 study that had examined 23 adults who had hip replacement reported after five years that they were experiencing no or few problems after returning to running or jogging. But, experts in the field do not feel the study included enough participants and that in particular the study period of five years is not long enough.

A broader review of studies in 2014 by Dr. Joseph Zeni, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, and a colleague of his examined the results of a larger pool of study participants that had hip replacement. The study group was participating in a wide array of sports and activities, including running that did have negative results such as; a loosening effect on the prosthesis, dislocations, fractures and friction that caused the scraping off of metal shavings which were then scattered within the body.

However, the 2014 review of relevant studies concluded that there was little evidence that these negative effects would occur in most people who took up jogging or running again after surgery. Dr. Zeni’s opinion is that someone who has had a hip replacement should “talk frankly with both their surgeon and their physical therapist.”

If Your Surgeon Gives You the Green Light to Return to Running

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, approximately 500,000 hip replacement surgeries are performed in the United States every year and is a most effective surgery to bringing patients a return of mobility and relieving the pain caused by osteoarthritis. And while running or jogging is not an activity recommended for people recovering from hip replacement if they are a beginner, it is given the green light to return to for experienced runners after an appropriate period of rehabilitation. Below are some recommendations if you want to return to running:

Recommended Steps:

  • Get approval for any of these activities from your surgeon and physical therapist.
  • Swimming is an excellent way to achieve return of leg and calf muscles strength. Swimming with swim fins will assist in getting you ready to return to running without risking injury during recovery.
  • Once your surgeon has given you the okay to begin putting weight on your hip, begin a walking regimen using trekking poles. You should get instructions from your physical therapist as to how often and the duration of your daily walks before you begin. Typically it is best to begin slowly and gradually increase the amount of energy you expend as you get stronger.
  • Riding a stationary bike is an excellent low impact activity that will strengthen your leg muscles and improve their flexibility as well as prevent stiffness.
  • Once you have regained your leg strength be certain to run on flat even running surfaces and be careful with your stride. Twisting the hip out of position can dislodge it from the socket, watch your stride.
  • Ice down your hip after going on a run to reduce any inflammation that getting back to running might bring on. This can be done with an ice pack and elevating the hip you had surgery on.

Final Thought

Naturally if when attempting to return to running you experience pain or injury you should contact your doctor immediately. It is common though to experience a mild amount of pain and inflammation where your hip was replaced, applying a heating pad for 15 minutes to your hip may help alleviate pain so your exercising will be less painful. Talk with your doctor about what amounts of pain you can expect in each stage of your recovery.