Hip Replacement Swelling: What it Means and What to Do Next

After the knee joint, the hip joint bears most of the body’s weight. As a result, the joint is highly vulnerable to weakening due to arthritis as the body ages. A weakened hip joint can cause severe pain, limit mobility, and make basic daily activities difficult to perform.

The good news is that a weakened or injured hip joint can be replaced by an artificial joint (prosthesis), greatly improving a person’s quality of life. While the vast majority of hip replacements are successful, as with any operative procedure, there’s the risk of complications. Hip replacement swelling is an important symptom to look out for, as it may signal a serious complication.

What to Look for

A certain amount of hip replacement swelling is normal and expected after surgery.  However, swelling that persists for a long period of time after surgery, or swelling that develops months or even years after the operation may indicate complications. As a result, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience suspicious swelling. All instances of abnormal hip swelling should be considered potential medical emergencies. Left untreated, the underlying cause of the swelling can lead to serious injury, including death.

Common Causes of Hip Replacement Swelling

Swelling after hip replacement is usually benign and can be caused by things like overexertion and minor bumps and bruises. However, swelling may also result from very serious complications including:

  • Infection
  • Blood clot formation
  • Neurovascular injury
  • Dislocation
  • Prosthetic failure

Implant failure is one of the leading causes of hip replacement swelling. In recent years, manufacturers have sold tens of thousands of “metal-on-metal” implants in which both the balls and sockets are made of metal. Friction between these metal components can cause metal particles to be released into the bloodstream, leading to swelling, infection, and even blood poisoning in some cases.

Higher failure rates of these metal-on-metal prostheses have led some manufacturers to recall their all-metal hips. If a patient suspects injury caused by a failed metal-on-metal implant, he or she may be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer. An attorney familiar with hip recall litigation should review the case. The patient should not delay because a case could become time-barred by a law called the statute of limitations.

Treatment for Hip Replacement Swelling

The type of treatment a patient receives will depend on the specific cause of the swelling. Here are some examples of common treatments:

  • Overexertion or minor trauma: Treatment for minor cases of swelling usually consists of rest, leg elevation, and application of cold compresses.
  • Infection: Infection is the most worrisome of all post-hip replacement complications. If the infection is identified within 2-4 weeks of surgery, a common treatment is surgical cleansing of the wound followed by six weeks of intravenous antibiotics. If identified later, the general treatment will be more extensive.
  • Blood clot formation: Blood clotting is a potentially fatal condition that occurs in around 10%-20% of hip replacement cases. If the swelling doesn’t respond to leg elevation it may be evidence of clotting. Once identified, a blood clot is generally treated with anticoagulants for 3-6 months.
  • Neurovascular injury: During surgery, nerves may be damaged or stretched, or a blood vessel may be inadvertently severed. As a result, swelling may occur. According to a study by the Georgetown University Hospital, this complication occurs in only one in one thousand cases. The treatment can vary depending on the nature of the injury.
  • Dislocation: If dislocation occurs within six weeks of surgery, it can normally be repaired by manually manipulating the leg to bring the ball of the joint back into the pelvic socket. A later occurring dislocation has a much higher risk of continued recurrence, and sometimes the prosthesis has to removed and replaced.

If your replacement hip has failed or is defective, you will likely have to undergo total hip revision surgery. During the procedure, the faulty joint is removed and replaced with a new replacement hip. If you suspect that your replacement hip is defective or has been recalled, you should consult with your surgeon as soon as possible.