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What a Veteran Needs to Know to Help Recover from Hip Surgery

Here’s how you could get back on your feet quickly, with a new lease on life

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When you are young, fit and on a mission, your hip is the last thing on your mind. But years later many veterans find themselves with joint problems that require surgery. “Tactical athletes,” including military, firefighters and police, have a significantly higher rate of hip osteoarthritis, one of the conditions that can lead to a hip replacement.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

John Cooper, M.D., a New York orthopedic surgeon who has worked extensively with veterans, told AARP Veteran Report this is likely due to repeated exposure to high-impact activities in training and service.

Vilas Saldanha, M.D., a Texas orthopedic surgeon who served in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan, said that arthritis, which can come from wear and tear, or trauma, might make a hip replacement necessary

Veterans most at risk “include those that served Airborne units, special operators, or anyone exposed to repetitive high-impact activities,” he told AARP Veteran Report. Special attention should be given to areas where “major trauma” was likely. “This goes for all joint surfaces, especially the weight-bearing joints, most notably, the hip and knee.”

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Here are some tips and tricks to make recovery from hip surgery much easier:

Don’t put it off

The time between the first symptoms and surgery might be 10 to 12 months longer for military personnel than civilians.

“Most of my patients tell me they wish they had chosen to have the procedure sooner, rather than suffering with pain,” Cooper said. “For those that eventually need a hip replacement in their other hip, they rarely wait as long to have surgery.” He also reassures patients that in the past, materials would wear out and need to be replaced in 15 to 20 years, but now implants last a lifetime for most patients.

Get stronger before the op

Physical therapy isn’t just for post-op weeks and months. Getting strong before your surgery can make for a quicker recovery. “Prior physical therapy, strong core, a motivated patient that wants to get back to activities of daily living, and personalized physical therapy programs aid significantly,” explained Saldanha,

Charlie Jones, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who is now a physical therapist in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said: “Pre-habilitation is key but having good muscle, nerve and circulation elements will help immensely. You can’t build a house with a poor foundation.”

Prepare your space

This isn’t the time to be navigating over your favorite area rug that sometimes gets bunched up — it can be a fall risk. Becky Coluntino, an occupational therapist who worked with veterans, has some tricks for patients. “Clean away any clutter, making sure there are clear paths everywhere,” she said. She recommends the following items, which you can discuss ahead of time with your hospital or therapy center: adjustable shower seat; grab bars; bed railing; sock aid; long-handled reacher; dressing stick; shoehorn; leg lifter; long-handled sponge; walker or crutches. If you have a caregiver, she suggests they learn therapy exercises at the hospital so they can help you when you get home.

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This isn’t the time to push yourself

A veteran’s can-do attitude can impede recovery, and it’s a common problem. “Our nation’s service members are used to answering the call to duty and pushing themselves,” said Saldanha. “If it hurts, stop. If it hurts after you stopped, you went too far.”

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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