Health: Hi-tech hip surgery is making big difference

Sharon Brennan

Sharon Brennan

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Not just for pensioners, a common op can relieve pain for younger people too. Katie Baldwin reports.

They are one of the most common procedures carried out by the NHS.

Every year, more than 70,000 people in England undergo a hip replacement operation.

The surgery was developed in the 1960s and is used to treat patients who have damaged hip joints which is causing them pain.

This can be due to osteoarthritis, where cartilage has rubbed away and so the bones are rubbing against each other, rheumatoid arthritis where the immune system attacks the joint, or a hip fracture – which are common in older people.

Replacing the ball and socket joint of the hip with an artificial one can transform the lives of patients, relieving pain and allowing them to move more easily.

For most, the outcomes are good – but there are downsides to the procedure.

One is that the lifespan of an artificial hip is expected to be around 15 to 20 years.

That means that some patients will need the joint replacing later in their life.

For Sharon Brennan, the amount of time her artificial hip would last was a major consideration – at 53, she was younger than many people who need the operation.

However she was suffering from such severe pain that her work and hobbies were affected.

Sharon, from Whinmoor, Leeds, had suffered for five years with pain in her right hip joint and groin which was getting steadily worse.

The community assistant for the elderly had got to the point where she could not walk more than a short distance without pain, she struggled with stairs and night pain was disturbing her sleep.

“It felt like bone on bone and would send sharp pain like an electric shock down my leg,” she said.

“I decided it was not going to stop me living my life and it was time to do something about it.”

Other treatments and painkillers did not help, so she started looking into having surgery.

Technological advances have meant that for younger patients, new types of implants made from metal or ceramic could potentially last a lifetime as their lifespan is much longer.

Sharon underwent a total hip replacement using a minimally invasive technique called MIS.

Aaron Ng, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay, said: “Sharon had severe osteoarthritis of the right hip.

“We discussed the options and chose total hip replacement surgery as she had tried conservative treatments, such as oral analgesia and physiotherapy without success and the pain was severely affecting her daily activities.”

In the surgery, which took only an hour, Mr Ng replaced the worn out right hip with an uncemented socket and uncemented stem, using ceramic-on-ceramic bearings for the ball and socket joint.

Her operation involved just small incisions, meaning less need for pain relief afterwards, and her recovery time was fast-tracked so she was home in a few days.

He said: “With minimal invasive surgery a small incision is made resulting in reduced blood loss and allowing less requirement for analgesia post-operatively.

“I also adopted an enhanced recovery programme whereby Sharon had fantastic pain relief following surgery and was able to go home within three days of surgery.”

The surgeon said that people under 60 should not automatically think that the operation was not for them.

“There are a lot of young patients with hip arthritis who are afraid to have surgery and I would recommend they see a surgeon and discuss the options available.

“There is good evidence that young patients can benefit from total hip replacement surgery using the modern advanced technology such as uncemented hip replacements and ceramic on ceramic bearings.

“Modern technology minimizes the wear in the implant and helps to improve the longevity of the implant.”

For Sharon, the difference it has made to her life has been immense.

“The extreme pain has gone and three months later I was able to return to my active job,” she said.

“Now I can go for long walks, climb stairs and get back to my beloved gardening.”

Get the lowdown

Hip replacements are recommended if a patient is suffering from persistent hip pain or their movement is very restricted.

Most are carried out in people aged between 60 and 80, as some of the causes are linked to growing older.

For a traditional procedure, patients may be in hospital for up to five days and on crutches for up to six weeks. Under an enhanced recovery programme, patients start walking on the day of the operation and are discharged within three days.