Hip Replacement

I was diagnosed with arthritic changes in my hip joints when I was about 20 years old.  At that time, the doc told me to keep moving--because, although my deformed joints would definitely wear out in about 10 years, keeping active would prolong my comfort.

Turns out that the doc was right about movement, if not quite on-target with the timing.

In the summer of 2013, not quite 30 years later, my left hip finally started to grind. 

No joint fluid or cartilage remaining on the left side,
fading fast on the right side

 Walking was difficult, standing was difficult, sitting was difficult, driving was difficult, and worst of all, riding my horse was excruciating.

I was terrified of hospitals, and skeptical about doctors, and was determined to avoid surgery.

I got much more pro-active about painkillers and anti-inflammation meds.  That helped some...for a while.

I found a fabulous physical therapist.  That helped some...for a while.

I kept riding.  Not riding is not an option.  But it hurt...and 50-milers were no longer possible because of the pain.

I got injections.  The first set helped for a while.  But the second set of injections didn't help much at all.  Surgery was still scary.  But not riding was not an option.

Rock, meet hard place.

I thought, "I need to face my fears."  

I'm not very timid, but coping with this kind of fear AND this kind of pain ain't easy.  

I finally sucked it up and signed up for surgery in March 2014.

And then came the waiting.  What do you do while waiting for surgery?  I don't know about y'all, but I went riding.  Yes, it hurt.  Yes, I had to take some pretty massive painkillers to get through even a short training ride (and no, I don't recommend doing that).  

But not riding is not an option. 

Also:  I am lucky to have friends to go with me (and help me not be completely stupid while riding under the influence) and a horse who takes really good care of me (although that wasn't so obvious to me until the process was almost over).

Here are links to posts about the surgery and recovery experience--nothing gory, I promise. 

Surgery day and hospital stuff
Recovering at home, which is boring.
Recovering and trying not to do too much, which is more difficult than it sounds.
Getting back on a horse for the first time post-surgery -- hooray!
First trail ride after surgery, slightly less than a month after surgery.
First competition (30-miles) about 10 weeks post-surgery.
First 50-miler, slightly under 3 months post-surgery.  I was distinctly lopsided and lame for more than a week after this ride.
Second 50-miler, following a week of hard trail work, slightly under 4 months post-surgery.  I was not lame after this ride.

Why did you get a hip replacement?  You are much too young for that!
I was born with hip dysplasia (yes just like big dogs have--it means "shallow hip sockets"), and have lived with arthritic changes in my hip joints since I was 20 years old.  These poorly-designed joints held up much longer than any of the doctors expected.  However, when the surgeon looked at the parts he removed, he told my family that they were legitimately painful--jagged bone on jagged bone, and no cartilage remaining to smooth the joint left by the time he went in to fix them.

This was caused by a fall from a horse, wasn't it? Or an old karate injury?  'Fess up!
Nope. Nothing catastrophic, just a bad genetic design that finally gave out.

Did this surgery wipe out your savings account?
Nope.  I have excellent health insurance, and my total out-of-pocket was under $500.

How much did it hurt?
Ever broken a leg?  About that much...before the surgery.  After surgery, not nearly as much.

So much for riding endurance now, huh?  You're going to have to be careful of that new hip for the rest of your life, and that means no more endurance rides!
The surgeon assured us that the joint he worked on is FIXED, and that no normal (or even extreme) athletic endeavor would be out-of-bounds after 6 months of routine recovery.  I could even hop up in the saddle immediately without damaging the joint--but between the remaining incisional pain and the opiates I took for that, climbing onto a horse too soon would be a Bad Idea!

Always, she is there for me

Also, the doc cautioned me that falling off a horse was no longer recommended, and that I should avoid doing that for at least six months.

Plastic?  Or titanium?
Both!  Ceramic and plastic for the socket, and a titanium ball and stem that looks like a very tiny trailer hitch!

The new hitch in my get-along

How soon did they let you get out of bed and walk?
They had me up on the afternoon of surgery. Because of my blood pressure issues, I didn't get to go anywhere until the following day.  5 days post-operation I was moving around the entire house with my walker and on very short trips without it, with minimal discomfort.  The next day I switched to walking with a cane, and the day after that I started walking slowly and carefully without aids.

What kind of drugs did they give you?
I got the very strong stuff in the hospital, and some less-strong stuff to bring home. I have gradually switched to ibuprofen and Tylenol.

How soon could you drive again?  What about your job?  
I was allowed to drive when I got off the opiates and could drive without discomfort.  My truck has a manual transmission, which means it took several weeks before I could work the clutch pedal without screaming in pain.  I've got plenty of sick leave on the books, so I stayed away from work for 7 weeks, until was able to drive my 60-minute commute and was really ready to go back.

My cousin's sister's auntie's brother-in-law in Wyoming takes this herbal fish oil vitamin Z supplement with extra shark flavonoids made from organic free-range walrus glands, and it cures his arthritis.  Why didn't you do that instead of surgery?

Before submitting to surgery, I tried chiropractics, massage, acupuncture, OTC pain mends, prescription pain meds, herbal teas, a non-inflammatory diet, cortisone injections, physical therapy, and I forget what else.  Some stuff helped a bit.  But riding my horse hasn't been pain-free since June 2013 and, as the surgeon said when he had the raggedy sawed-off bone in his hand, there is no supplement known to humankind that would've relieved the pain from that crunched-up joint.

What about your other hip?  Isn't it pretty chewed up too?


Winter is coming, and there will probably be another hip replacement scheduled then.  I do not intend to delay the second surgery as long as I did for the first--the result, in the end, was that I spent more time prior to surgery taking pain meds and less time riding my horse.

Renegade Rendezvous 50-miler, 
four months post-surgery
photo by Monica Bretherton

Because, as I may have mentioned elsewhere, not riding is not an option.

Total Hip Replacement 2.0, photo taken 5 weeks after surgery
In November 2015 I had my right hip replaced.  Although the first surgery went smoothly and the recovery was fast, the second time around was much easier!   

The surgeon cautions me that "falling off the horse" is still prohibited for 6 months post-surgery...but he's excited about my plans for the 2016 ride season, and he wants a photo when I finish that first 100-miler with Fiddle.

And that...is GOOD!


  1. I have found your hip replacement blog so helpful. I have a young horse who I won't get on for six months, but will go to a friends place and she can lunge me on something quiet as soon as I get the OK from my surgeon. My question is, when were you comfortable doing barn chores again? I am having bilateral anterior THR on Sept 14 and can't wait to get ride of the arthritic pain. I know the first couple of weeks are going to be really rough, but hope that I get through those quickly.


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