Every year, there are an estimated 450,000 hip replacement procedures done in the United States. This now-common procedure was first developed in 1891 by German physician Themistocles Gluck, who at the time used ivory to replace femoral heads. Fast forward to today, no ivory or elephants are thankfully needed to do a hip replacement, and patients normally walk out of the clinic the same day of the procedure.
However common hip replacement is today, a patient’s recovery lies quite heavily on post-surgery care. Post-hip replacement exercises are quite crucial, but so is post-surgery icing of the area.
Why do you need to ice after a hip replacement?
Congratulations on the success of your surgery and, of course, your brand-new hips! The ultimate success of your surgery lies on what you do after the hip replacement procedure. There’s still quite a lot of work for you to do, so let’s get started!
First of all, you may wonder why you need to ice your hip after hip replacement surgery. After replacing the joint, swelling is to be expected, and the swelling may cause increased pain and it will limit your range of motion. It is important to reduce this swelling for proper recovery.
Cold therapy, or the application of an ice pack to the affected area, is known to reduce swelling. Cold application reduces the temperature of the tissue, which will decrease cell metabolism in the affected area. This in turn will lower the amount of secondary damage to the tissue in the area.
Swelling usually occurs when blood vessels are damaged. When you apply something cold to the affected area, usually in the form of an ice pack, this causes the blood vessels around the area to constrict, which will reduce the swelling.
What you need to know before icing your hip
Swelling of the leg and hip is normal after hip replacement surgery. Icing is one way you can minimise this. However, it will help if you do certain things along with icing in order to facilitate a faster and more effective recovery.
First, exercises are crucial. We have written a separate, step-by-step article about this on our website. It’s also advised to avoid prolonged periods of sitting for a week or two after the surgery. We advise you to not sit for more than 45 minutes to an hour at a time. It’s important that you get up, stretch your legs and move around, or to lie down and keep your legs elevated.
Laying down and elevating your leg is also the ideal time to ice your hip and legs. It’s advised to take a break late in the morning and also in the late afternoon or early evening to lie down on a couch or bed and prop your leg using several pillows. It’s important to lie down completely when icing. Sitting up with your foot propped is not the same and will likely not help.
With your legs propped up, do your ankle pumps (refer to our article about post-hip replacement exercises) and try to wiggle your toes. This will relieve your muscles with some of the swelling.
Now you’re ready to ice your hips.
How to ice your hips after hip replacement surgery
Icing is part of what is known as the “triple approach” to a speedy recovery after a surgery: pain medication, elevation and icing. Consult your physician or surgeon for the best pain medication to take.
Whenever you ice your hips, it’s important that you do this with your leg elevated while lying down, as mentioned earlier. Use ice packs or make-shift ice bags on the sore area for 10-15 minutes and up to four times per day. If you’re not using a proper ice pack, place a towel between your make-shift ice bag and your skin to protect yourself from ice burn.
What kinds of ice packs can you use for post-hip replacement surgery?
Gel or ice packs
These are the most ideal packs to use. In fact, we would suggest already getting one even before your scheduled surgery, as this will be used a lot for post-surgery care. Ice packs are made especially to help reduce swelling because the gel packs are flexible and they never completely freeze. This makes it ideal to use after surgery, when the area is sore and vulnerable.
Gel packs normally have adjustable straps which will allow the gel packs to contour to your hips or affected area perfectly. Certain gel packs like Magic Gel’s also provide continuous cold temperature from the freezer for up to 20 minutes, which is the ideal amount of time to ice the area.
Crushed ice bags
If you do not have a gel pack, you can create an instant ice bag using a large Ziploc bag with about one or two cups of crushed or shaved ice placed inside. It’s important to note that the ice will melt quicker than the recommended 10-15 minutes of icing when using this type of ice bag, so it would be helpful to have two prepared beforehand.
Also make sure to wrap a cloth or towel around the bag before placing it on your skin.
Ice therapy machines
This is a costly option and professional athletes may likely have this at home, but it’s helpful to know that some pharmacies, clinics and hospitals rent this device out. Ice therapy machines offer direct cold treatments to specific areas of the body. They circulate cold water and air through a wrap and since they do not get ice-cold, they can be used for longer periods of time. The recommended usage is up to two hours at a time, but some hip replacement patients have reported to have left them on through the night.
Consult your physician or surgeon before exploring this option for you.
Post-hip replacement surgery care is a quite comprehensive program that requires vigilant exercise, icing and rest. When followed through consistently, you’ll be on your way to enjoy your active, pain-free lifestyle once again!
Have you just had hip replacement surgery? Contact us and share your experience, we’d love to hear from you!