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Walking Normal After Hip is Replaced —
Most hip replacement recipients in my practice list ‘walking normal’ as the #1 goal in their physical therapy recovery. This makes sense and would not surprise anyone reading this as walking normally again would make your life more enjoyable.
On average it takes roughly 8-10 weeks to work normally after hip replacement surgery. By normally I would define this as walking step over step with no noticeable limp. In addition this would assume no significant pain and normal walking pace as well.
Defining Normal Walking After Hip is Replaced
Normal walking varies different from person to person and has many different styles and patterns for each individual. A tall 80 year old male would have a much different ‘normal walking’ as compared to a shorter 60 year old female hip patient.
One thing that every normal walking stride has is the heel to toe pattern of steps. What this means is the heel strikes down before the toe on each and every step. This is technically considered normal walking by research and allows deceased risk of falls by keeping your toe up throughout.
Balanced arm swing and equal step length are also included in normal walking patterns. For those missing an arm due to prior injury or those with severe leg length issues this would not be the case. However in most people, proper balance in these 2 areas would be required for walking normally.
For the purposes of our normal walking standard, again we would require no limping, normal walking pace, heel to toe strides and minimal to no pain. Normal walking arm swing would be expected however not mandatory.
Why Does It Take So Long To Walk Normal After Total Hip Surgery?
In my experience, people tend to think they will be back and walking normally in no time at all after their new artificial hip is in place. Usually it takes only a few days for them to realize that walking might be a little more of a chore than they expected.
Walking normally a few weeks after surgery simply is not realistic. In the first 2-4 weeks after hip replacement your body is still in a state of inflammation and recovery. When pain and swelling are still ongoing you will not walk in normal heel to toe pattern.
Even between weeks 4-8 after surgery, your leg strength and balance will not be close to 100% yet. Yes you will be feeling much better and having less pain at this stage. However to walk normal you will need to meet all of the requirements of pain, swelling, strength and balance noted previously.
How Can I Make This Normal Walking Occur Faster?
I hate to break the bad news but there are very few things you can do to change how fast your own body heals itself. Your body cell healing relies heavily on your age and health status. However, there are a few outside factors you can control to help push the healing.
First and foremost, staying consistent with your physical therapy exercise routine is the most important factor in your healing process. Sticking with your program will help you gain full range of motion and proper strength and balance quicker.
Walking properly or as close to it from day one will improved your chances to get back to normal walking as quick as possible. Listen to your PT and take their advice when it comes to walking techniques and posture awareness during your early recovery.
Another thing you can do from the start to improve your chance for normal walking is to keep the inflammation and swelling levels as low as possible. By this I mean to use ice, compression and elevation techniques to keep swelling as low as possible early on. By doing so, your leg has the best chance to regain normal motion and muscle function quickest.
The final thing to note is that healing occurs the most during sleeping for all humans. If you are not getting enough quality sleep after surgery, your body simply won’t heal well. Promote good sleeping habits and your walking will return to normal much quicker.
What About Normal Walking on Slopes and Terrain?
If you are like most people, you don’t just want to return to only walking on flat surfaces around your home. Walking on streets that may be sloped would likely be a goal of yours. You will need to be walking across grass, uneven parking lots and maybe to the park with your grandkids.
The timeframe of you walking normally on all surfaces flat or sloped will be based on how much mobility you had previously. If you were a mobile active individual for the year leading into your surgery, your chances of returning to normal walking on all surfaces in 8-10 weeks increases tremendously.
Let’s take a goal of returning to walking around your hilly neighborhood step over step with no limp. Most people would have this as a reasonable goal after getting their hip replaced. If you want to be able to do this within 8-10 weeks, you had been have been doing this on some in the year leading into surgery.
Many people are not fortunate enough to have been walking on unsteady terrain for years leading into surgery because of pain. If you are in this boat, your chances of doing so after surgery are much less.
The longer you avoid an activity, for any reason, the tougher it is to return to that activity at any time. Be sure to take into account the time of year you had your surgery. If you had your hip replaced in October and expect to walk normal in snow in January you need to change your goals.
Final Thoughts on Walking Normally After Hip Replacement Surgery
- On average normal walking will be achievable in 8-10 weeks after surgery
- Normal walking is defined as walking with normal pace, no limp and normal step length
- Walking with minimal to no pain