What are the alternatives to hip surgery?

Hip joint replacement surgery is only offered when other treatments such as physiotherapy haven't worked. Here are some common questions people ask about alternatives to hip surgery.

On this page, you will find information on:

  1. What can I do to prevent hip pain?
  2. What can I do if I have hip pain?
  3. Is there anything I can do to prevent having hip surgery?
  4. When is surgery a good option?
  5. What can I do if I am on a waiting list and still have pain?
  6. What if surgery is not an option for me and I need to live with pain long term?

What can I do to prevent hip pain?

There are things you can do to help protect your hip and prevent hip pain. 

  • Have a healthy balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight – this means you don't put extra stress on your hip joints and so it helps prevent hip pain.
  • Do regular exercise – this helps strengthen the muscles around your hips and promotes joint flexibility and mobility.  
  • Wear well-fitted and supportive footwear – wearing well-fitted and supportive footwear helps distribute the pressure on your hips appropriately.

What can I do if I have hip pain?

If you have hip pain, you can do the following things to help reduce the pain:

  • Regular exercise – although you may tend to avoid doing exercise when you have hip pain, regular exercise and staying active can help reduce your pain. There are lots of stretching, strengthening and stabilising exercises that can help keep your muscles healthy and support your hips. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling or walking can also help keep your muscle strong without putting much strain on your hip joints.
  • Lose weight – being overweight can put extra strain on your hips, increasing your pain and make it harder to exercise. Losing even a small amount of weight can greatly reduce hip pain.
  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy – a physiotherapist can help plan and recommend suitable exercises for you to lessen your hip pain. An occupational therapist can teach you things such as how to pace your activities and spreading hard jobs throughout the day to reduce extra strain on your hips. 
  • Pain relief medicines – pain relief medicines or painkillers are often recommended by your doctor or pharmacist to reduce pain and stiffness. All medicines should be used at appropriate doses and for the shortest duration possible. Examples of pain relief medicines include paracetamol, NSAIDs or capsaicin creams and gels. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure about which type of pain relief medicines is suitable for you. 

Is there anything I can do to prevent having hip surgery?

The treatment of hip pain is different for everyone. If you are overweight, weight loss is especially helpful and may mean you no longer need surgery.

You may be able to find a combination of the treatment options above that work for you. Having support from your family/whānau and friends also help as being anxious and depressed can make your pain worse. 

When is surgery a good option?

Most people with hip pain don't need surgery. However, surgery is a good option and is offered when the treatment options above don't work.

Usually, hip surgery will be recommended by your doctor if:

  • you have severe pain, swelling and stiffness in your hip and your mobility is reduced
  • your pain is so severe that it interferes with your quality of life and sleep
  • everyday tasks, such as shopping or getting out of the bath, are difficult or impossible 
  • you're feeling depressed because of the pain and lack of mobility
  • you can't work or have a normal social life.

What can I do if I am on a waiting list and still have pain?

Your doctor or surgeon will make a plan with you on the things you can do when you are on a surgery waiting list.

They may refer you to an occupational therapist to assess your mobility and independence to help you get on with your daily activities. You may also need to take pain relief medicines to help cope with your pain while waiting for surgery.

If you are overweight or obese, losing weight helps to remove the extra strain on your hips. Your doctor or physiotherapist may also recommend suitable exercises for you to help maintain your mobility. 

What if surgery is not an option for me and I need to live with pain long term?

If surgery is not an option for you, there are many other treatment options available. You may find a combination of these treatments helpful. Talk to your GP or doctor to find out the best treatment options for you. 

Treatment options can include the following:

  • Stretching, strengthening, stabilising exercises – there are lots of stretching, strengthening and stabilising exercises that can help keep your muscles healthy and support your hips. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling or walking can also help keep your muscles strong without putting much strain on your hip joints.
  • Complementary or alternative therapies – complementary or alternative treatments are not usually recommended in the treatment of osteoarthritis, due to a lack of quality evidence or evidence that they are ineffective. Some people may find them beneficial, possibly due to a placebo effect. Examples of therapies include acupuncture, heat or cold pack or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Read more about complementary or alternative therapies
  • Losing weight – being overweight can put extra strain on your hips, increasing your pain and make it harder to exercise. Losing even a small amount of weight can greatly reduce hip pain.
  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy – a physiotherapist can help plan and recommend suitable exercises for you to lessen your hip pain. An occupational therapist can teach you things such as how to pace your activities and spreading hard jobs throughout the day to reduce extra strain on your hips. 
  • Pain relief medicines – pain relief medicines or painkillers are often recommended by your doctor or pharmacist to reduce pain and stiffness. All medicines should be used at appropriate doses and for the shortest duration possible. Examples of pain relief medicines include paracetamol, NSAIDs or capsaicin creams and gels. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure about which type of pain relief medicines is suitable for you. Read more about medicines for osteoarthritis
  • Joint injections or other types of surgery – joint injections such as steroid injections can help reduce inflammation and pain in your hips. Other types of surgery include arthroscopic surgery and osteotomy. Ask your doctor to find out more details and whether these treatments are available in your area. 
  • Mobility aids and devices – there are many different mobility aids and devices available to help you get around, such as walking sticks, walking aids and shock absorbing shoes. There is also mobility parking available for you to use – car parks that are wider than normal parks and closer to venues. Ask your doctor to find out what is available in your area. 

Learn more

The following links provide further information about alternatives to hip surgery. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations. 

Is a hip replacement right for you? Ministry of Health, NZ
Osteoarthritis Health Navigator NZ
Arthritis – exercises to keep you moving Arthritis New Zealand
Hip pain Versus Arthritis, UK
Exercises for hip pain Versus Arthritis, UK

References

  1. Is a hip replacement right for you? Ministry of Health, NZ

Reviewed by

Dr Helen Kenealy is a geriatrician and general physician working at Counties Manukau DHB. She has a broad range of interests and has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation, orthgeriatrics and community geriatrics.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Helen Kenealy, geriatrician and general physician, Counties Manukau DHB Last reviewed: 18 Dec 2020