When Can I Walk Unaided After Hip Replacement Surgery?

Walking Unaided After Hip Replacement —

Without question the #1 goal listed by my hip replacement patients after surgery is to walk unaided with no pain. Specifically, walking with no cane or other walking device. 

This may sound like too simple of a goal but let’s if you’re at the point where you need a new hip to feel good in your day to day you most likely just want to walk normal first and see what happens after that point.

You can expect to walk unaided after hip replacement around your home anywhere from 3-6 weeks after surgery depending on your age and overall health.  The 3 week range would be one in the lower age bracket (under age 70) and with good health status.  Some in the older age range and with lesser health may continue to require a cane however unaided walking after total hip replacement should always be the goal of getting your hip replaced.

You may be wondering how you know when you are ready or allowed to walk unaided once your hip is replaced.  This is a great question and one that requires some expertise to break down so you can be safe in your return to normal walking. 

Physical therapists are well trained in gait and walking analysis so make sure you take their advice in your walking progression to avoid any hiccups in your recovery at home.

There’s ‘Walking’ and Then There’s Walking After Hip Replacement

Going back to the 3-6 week range, this timeframe indicates when you should be able to do standard walking around your home and without a cane or walker.  This does not mean you can walk on the treadmill for an hour or spend all day long outside your home without a walking device. 

In fact I recommend you take a cane with you on any trips or outings outside of your home for the first 1-2 months. This is simply for safety and letting others know to give you space and lessen the risk for falls.

walking unaided after hip replacement

For most people walking unaided will be a great accomplishment as it indicates the potential to walk long distances again. The goal is to be normal in your everyday mobility in and out of your home

When we discuss the term walking, the context is being able to walk step over step and not stop while performing.  Initially there will still be a minor limp or uneven strides due to continued weakness after surgery. However, this will go away once your normal strength and balance eventually returns.

Your ability to finally walk normal (as in normal distance for you) with no noticeable limp should return in 6-12 weeks.  Don’t be disappointed if it takes in the longer range. Often times your leg has been used to walking in a different manner for years. Learning a new pattern just takes time so be patient.

When I Can Walk Without a Cane After Hip Replacement?

The good news after you get your new hip is that 99% of the time you are weight bearing as tolerated (WBAT).  In other words, you can put as much weight through that leg as you can tolerate within pain limitations. 

What this means is that once the hip is in place, putting more weight through the new hip (within your hip precautions) is not a concern. You will not damage your new hip with normal body weight through your leg.

The main issue that will limit you from walking unaided after hip surgery is your trust level of the leg. Being able to support your body weight again is always difficult for my patients however it will improve. 

More than likely you have been either limping around for quite some time or using a cane when you walk. Getting back to normal walking will be more of a mental challenge than a physical issue for you.

At this stage of your recovery you will likely be seen by a PT whether home or outpatient therapy.  The best way to determine when you are ready to walk unaided is when you are demonstrating that even when you are walking with a cane that you are barely using the cane at all. 

If this is the case, your body is telling you to make this more of a habit. Start to move away from the cane gradually and see how your walking progresses. Keep your feet wider for more support and balance early in this phase.

To go one step further, often times you will start to forget the cane and walk with nothing around your home. You will eventually realize you left the cane in the other room and probably panic.

Yes, you might be reading this and smiling right now because this is you.  If so, its time to begin venturing further and more often without using a cane around your home.  You can even do your stairs without a cane as long as you have a sturdy railing in place.

How to Walk Properly After Hip Replacement

Expect there to be some minor discomfort either in your thigh or buttock area when you first try some steps without a cane or walker.  Why would this be?  Remember, you have not taken normal steps for quite some time.

This is because your old hip arthritis pain was to the point where you needed the hip replaced.  Your body will likely be telling you through some pain that its a little nervous to take your full body weight on its own without any support.

Usually at this stage (weeks 3-6) you will still be taking some form of pain medication. It may be a mild narcotic or simply acetaminophen or ibuprofen.  This added medication should help alleviate some of the initial pain when trying to walk properly.  In addition, always walk with supportive shoes to lessen the strain on your new hip, even inside the house.

Don’t forget too, you should still be using either ice or heat or a combination of the two for additional relief.  A good strategy would be to put some heat on the leg for 20-25 minutes prior to walking. Then ice later on for 20-25 minutes to both loosen the tissues and then relieve the discomfort afterwards.

Normal pain after hip replacement surgery ranges anywhere from 1-7/10 on the Wong-Baker pain scale. This pain report depends on your activity level, pain tolerance and phase of recovery you are in. 10/10 pain is not normal and should be addressed immediately by your surgeon.

How To Walk Normally After Hip Replacement 

The best way to make sure you get back to proper walking quickly is to have your physical therapist instruct you. They should demonstrate the proper stepping techniques and practice them with each step you take. 

when can i walk unaided after hip replacement

Every time you get up to walk, make sure you focus on your leg and don’t just limp or stumble around your home.  Use the techniques to your advantage and your return to normal walking will be much easier.

Included in these techniques are walking heel to toe, meaning make sure your heel hits down before your toe each step. Take slightly longer strides to ensure this correct walking technique. 

Posture is extremely important so be sure that you keep your shoulders back and head looking forward not down.  Finally, a simple technique I teach is simply clenching your bum muscle each time that heel hits the floor. This will give that leg a little more muscle tone support when it may need it most.

Keep in mind that you are still under hip precautions meaning that when you make a turn you must not pivot on that leg.  Do not lean forward at the waist to pick anything up off the floor.  You may feel like a new person walking normally but you still need to follow the surgeon’s rules to make sure your hip stays in place.

When Can I Walk Outside Without A Cane After My Hip Replacement?

Walking in your home unaided is one thing, walking properly outside the home is a different story.  As mentioned before, you should always take a cane or walker on any trips or outings outside of your home for the first 1-2 months simply for safety.  So when can you start to venture onto uneven surfaces and slopes without your cane? The easiest answer is when your body tells you its ready for it. 

To walk on hills, slopes or uneven terrain such as grass or trails without a cane it would be wise to be completely pain free.  Your balance needs to be good to attempt this type of unaided walking on non-flat surfaces. It would be wise to keep your feet slightly wider than normal to provide a little more balance.

The tougher part of walking on slopes or hills in the early phase will be your endurance and the limited distance your leg will let you walk.  Whether this return to full walking takes 4 weeks or 4 months, you will need to listen to your body and be smart about your walking. 

Be sure to walk with someone else at first for safety, even if you need a little handheld support at first.  Don’t worry, if this is a realistic goal for you then you will get there with time.

Final Thoughts of Walking Unaided After Hip Replacement 

To recap:

  • Expect to walk unaided without a cane or walker within 3-6 weeks
  • Age and Health Status will determine when for you in the timeframe range
  • Anticipate some minor pain with unaided walking early on

With everything being discussed above, you still need to be confident mentally in order to walk unaided after your surgery.  If you are not quite there yet, its more than ok to keep using your cane or walker for whatever length of time that you need. 

Don’t worry about how quickly your coworker was able to get back to hiking the trails or how fast your aunt was able to walk on the beach.  Listen to your own body and you will recover at your own pace.

About Jeffrey Roth MPT

Owner and operator of Roth Therapy Services in Pittsburgh, PA focusing on in home rehabilitation physical therapy services.


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