Doctors are offering a new alternative to hip replacement especially for the new, active baby boomers. Now there is no longer the need to wait until your 60’s for a hip repair. The alternative? Hip resurfacing. Aimed at younger, athletic baby boomers, usually under 55, a damaged hip’s ball and socket can be relined with smooth metal rather than cutting the worn bone away and replacing it as has been typically done in hip replacement surgeries. The new resurfacing system relieves hip pain and improves hip function by replacing the parts of the hip that have been damaged by degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Last spring (April, 2006) the British-designed, Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System, introduced this procedure. While earlier attempts failed, this new approach uses longer lasting materials and promises the joint may hold up with heavy recreation better than the traditional hip implants. Hip resurfacing isn’t for everyone. People with thinning bones or with poor functioning kidneys should not have the procedure.
Patients typically recover quickly from the process, but resurfacing is harder to do than a typical hip replacement, and only a small number of the nation’s orthopedic surgeons are trained to do it.
A standard hip replacement is likely to wear out in about 15 years, so physicians have had to tell their suffering patients to hold out for as long as they possibly can. Now, with the new resurfacing procedure, physicians can be a little more aggressive in treating younger, creaky joints and the ever-growing demand for hip repair from younger patients.
More than 400,000 total or partial hip replacements are performed each year. This number is constantly growing as the population ages. With the old type of hip replacement, the surgeon cut off the femoral head–the joints ball–and replaced it with a metal ball mounted on a rod implanted deep in the thigh bone. A plastic socket replaced the original socket, but the metal-on-plastic friction wore out the implant eventually, sooner if sports or other activities increased pressure on the joint.
With the new resurfacing, surgeons lightly shave the damaged femoral ball and fit a metal ball snugly over it. That ball rolls in a metal cup reinforcing the socket. The metal-on-metal shouldn’t wear out as fast, and if patients should need it replaced at a later date, the thigh bone is still largely intact. The resurfacing conserves bone.
Recovery from hip resurfacing surgery typically lasts from six weeks to three months. Rehabilitation is a very important part to recovery, and the process is speeded up if the patient remains active and does hip-strength- building exercises. The physician or occupational therapist will design a program of rehabilitation to include these exercises.