Study suggests shorter recovery period for hip replacement patients

Orthopedic surgery is all about maintaining a level of mobility and independence in the patient. While serious procedures such as total hip replacements have a recovery time dedicated to letting the patient's body accept and adapt to the new implant, the goal is to return to a normal lifestyle in a relatively short period of time.

According to the findings of a recent study that was presented at the Mar. 11 American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons conference, however, the conventional wisdom for hip replacement recovery times may be overly conservative. Through the use of a driving simulation that gauged the reaction times of post-op hip replacement patients, researchers from the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York found that recovery from the surgery could be shortened to as little as four weeks.

Gaming the system
Conducted by Geoffrey Westrich, M.D., director of research at the Hospital for Special Surgery, the study incorporated 100 patients who were scheduled to undergo a total hip replacement procedure on their right sides. Before the operation, patients' reaction times behind the wheel of a car were tested through the use of a computer simulation that Westrich conceived by watching his children play video games.

The reaction timer would start when patients pressed on a computerized gas pedal. When a stop sign appeared on screen, the time it took for patients to press the brake pedal was recorded as their reaction times.

Either two, three of four weeks after the procedure, the participants were then randomly selected to retake the driving test. For patients that retested two or three weeks after their operation, their reaction times had not returned to their pre-surgery levels. 

At four weeks, however, patients had surpassed even their original reaction times. Additionally, patients over the age of 70 had improved their reaction times to those of patients in their 60s.

Challenging conventional wisdom
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases outlined the traditionally recommended recovery process for hip replacement surgery patients. While hospital observation post-surgery lasts only three to five days on average, patients are not recommended to drive until about six weeks after their procedure. 

Westrich's findings challenge that assertion.

"Over the past five or 10 years, we've seen advances such as minimally invasive hip replacement and newer implants that are advantageous to patients and may improve recovery time. Our study set out to obtain good, objective data to determine if it would be safe for people to return to driving sooner," Westrich said in a statement.