Are you an avid hiker? Did you just have a hip replacement? Let’s talk about getting your back out on the trail. Having a total hip replacement is a major surgery; however, the procedure has come a long way. The recovery is faster, allowing you to get back to your activities feeling better than ever. Some may even call you “bionic!”
More About Total Hip Replacements
Hip replacement surgery involves removing and replacing the head of your femur and acetabulum, thus giving you a new joint. Most of the time, you will go home the same day; however, sometimes, you may stay one night at the hospital.
You will start physical therapy right away. This is where the hard work begins, but the payoff is excellent! Here is where you will start your journey to recovery and getting back on the mountain.
Two of the primary focuses will be strength and balance, which are extremely important for hikers. You will be cleared to ride a stationary bike around 3-4 weeks. From there, you will continue to progress your strength and balance training to focus on single-leg strength and more dynamic balance training.
When Can You Start Walking Long Distances After a Hip Replacement
You are cleared to start recreational walking around the 6-week mark. Here you get to begin extending your distance and increasing your overall cardiovascular endurance. Make sure to keep the elevation low to focus on getting your endurance up.
You also want to focus on your gait pattern. Make sure that you are walking correctly, not limping. If you push walking with an improper gait pattern, you are setting yourself up for problems in the future. The key is making sure to monitor your pain level as you progress your distance and elevation. Let pain be your guide when looking to increase distance.
Hiking After a Hip Replacement
Now the real question: “when can you get back to hiking?” Around the 12-week mark, you can get back to hiking. You should look to start with minimal elevation and shorter distances. This will help your hip acclimate to the varying types of terrain you will encounter. Let pain be your guide as you progress to more challenging terrain.
If there is no pain, you can continue to progress. If you have pain, keep your hiking simple to help your hip get used to the increased demand. All the strengthening and balance exercises you’ve done at physical therapy will prove to be very beneficial when you get back to hiking. Make sure to keep up with your exercises to ensure that your hip muscles can continue to handle the demand placed on them as you progress you hiking.
How to Know You’re Ready For Hiking After a Hip Replacement
When deciding when to get back to hiking, the best thing you can do is check with your physical therapist. He or she will gear your rehabilitation to your specific hiking goals and make sure to clear your for return to hiking.
Single-Leg Squat Test
You can also perform self-assessments at home to check if your hip is ready for the challenge. Perform a series of squats to test the strength in both legs. From there, progress to single-leg exercises like a lunge or step up. These need to be performed without pain to be a good indicator for transition to hiking. You know you’re ready for hiking if you can perform the same amount of single-leg squats on each leg within a 30-second period.
Most people are surprised at how much of a strength difference there will be comparing their two legs. Continue to perform squats, lunges, and single-leg squats until they are equal comparing side-to-side.
The other item you should test is your ability to balance one leg. You can challenge yourself by performing single leg balance while tossing a ball back and forth. This will make sure you can sustain your balance while hiking on unpredictable terrain. Time yourself to see how long you can stand in a single-leg balance position and they should be really close to equal and greater than 10-seconds on each leg.
If they are not equal keep practicing your balance each day until it improves.
FAQ About Hiking After a Hip Replacement
Is hiking bad for my hip replacement?
No hiking is not bad for a hip replacement. In fact, it’s a great exercise to maintain a health weight, improve strength, balance, confidence, and maintain a healthy lifestyle after a hip replacement. Hiking is one of the recommended sporting activities after a hip replacement.
Whats the best strengthening exercise after a hip replacement?
There are tons of great strengthening exercises that you can do after a hip replacement and it depends where you are at in your recovery. We recommend working with a physical therapist to determine this very question to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
With that being said, the two exercises commonly used in the latter stages of hip replacement rehab are the eccentric lateral step down and leg elevated split squat. Both exercises challenge the hip abductors, balance, and leg muscles to prepare you for hiking.
Is pain with walking after a hip replacement normal?
Pain with walking after a hip replacement is normal, especially early on in the recovery. The hip still likely has consistent swelling and considerable weakness. Those two deficits are common causes of pain after a hip replacement and should get better. The most common cause for pain 3-months or longer after a hip replacement is a lack of strength in the hip.
Can I carry a pack with hiking after a hip replacement?
Absolutely. Carry a pack is not going to be an issue for your new hip. We do recommend waiting at least 6 months after surgery before carrying a heavy pack for backpacking for anything longer than an hour or two. By that time everything will have had more time to heal.
In the meantime, hiking with a hydration pack or a lighter backpack is fine.
Hiking after hip replacement surgery is attainable. Make sure to attend physical therapy, work hard at your exercises and balance training, and progress your activity appropriately, and you will be back out hiking in no time. Start planning your next hiking adventure with your new hip!
Written By: Cecile Younes PT, DPT, Cert DN, MST, VRS
Dr. Cecile Younes is a graduate of Franklin Pierce University where she received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy in May 2015. She attended the University of Delaware where she obtained her undergraduate degree in Health Behavior Science along with two minors in Coaching and Strength & Conditioning. Cecile is also certified in Dry Needling through the Dry Needling Institute. Cecile is also pursuing a certification in Spinal Manipulation through the American Academy of Manipulative Therapy, Spinal Manipulation Institute. She played Division I softball and as a result brings to her work a personal understanding of the drive and passion of athletes, and of the difficulties involved in recovering from athletic injury. Her personal experience allows her to motivate and inspire her patients through the process of post injury/surgery rehabilitation. She specializes in a variety of musculoskeletal and orthopedic conditions.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.