Hip ops in young people on the rise

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The number of young people undergoing hip replacements is growing. Catherine Scott reports on a life-changing procedure.

Hannah Blackburn, 40, is one of a growing number of active younger people under going hip replacements.

More than half the 70,000 hip replacements carried out each year are on the over 70s. But that is all changing.

For Hannah from Leeds her problems started last summer when Hannah noticed her leg would give way when walking. The pain in her left hip and leg worsened until she was in constant pain which started to impact her active lifestyle.

“The pain felt like a red hot poker running from my hip to my ankle. I do a lot of gym work and like to keep fit and it affected the amount of exercise I could do. It was so painful at night that I had to get up and walk around and work became challenging as it involves a lot of travelling,” says the business development director.

Hannah was referred to orthoppaedic consultant Jon Conroy at Spire Leeds Hospital, and an X-ray showed her hip had worn away to bone on bone.

“Chronic hip pain can have a devastating effect on quality of life. Hannah had a condition called hip dysplasia that predisposes to early arthritis,” explains Mr Conroy.

“In this group of younger patients potential complications need to be discussed fully as the demands on a hip replacement are far greater than in the elderly population. We now have more confidence about the wear rate of these new prosthetics which allows us to be less restrictive on an age basis as people are now keeping active longer than ever before.”

Hannah was treated with physiotherapy and two steroid injections before considering surgery. Her pain worsened and after discussing it with Mr Conroy she decided to go ahead with surgery in early February this year.

“Hannah had a minimally-invasive hip replacement operation through an opening of just five centimetres minimising trauma to muscles through an innovative retractor system. She chose a spinal block as opposed to general anaesthetic that allowed her to be awake throughout surgery while being pain free. It helped her recover more quickly with minimal pain and she was able to mobilise putting full weight on the hip the same day as surgery.”

The fact that the scar was only 5cms long and is concealed within the bikini line was important to Hannah for cosmetic reasons. She researched carefully and specifically requested Mr Conroy use a certain piece of equipment which would leave her with a smaller scar.

Mr Conroy, who also has a degree in mechanical engineering, added: “The operation involved a unique retractor to protect the skin edges and allow a very small incision. The ball portion of the joint was removed and replaced with a short stem implant with a ceramic ball and modern polyethylene socket. Her implant was an uncemented stem with ceramic bearing surface.

“This type of implant is ideal for young patients with good bone quality and increased demands on lifestyle. The implant could potentially last for 20 to 25 years.”

“I’d never had any type of surgery before, not even major dental surgery so having an operation was quite a big thing for me,” says Hannah.

“However, the nursing staff were superb. They helped me to relax and I listened to music through my iPod throughout the surgery and felt quite calm. I knew I was in good hands.”

And she is delighted with the results of the surgery which cost £12,000. Seven weeks after the operation she is making a steady recovery with weekly hydrotherapy and physiotherapy and following strict ‘doctor’s orders’ about what she can and cannot do.

She plans to head back to work in her London office next week and is looking forward to getting back to normality.

“I had almost resigned myself to living with the pain. I would have had the surgery done sooner if I had known that was not the case,” says Hannah.

“My parents and friends looked after me really well during my recovery but I’m now able to do things for myself and I cannot wait to get back to the gym once I get the go-ahead.

“I’m really looking forward to getting my freedom and independence back.”

And Hannah is part of a new younger generation of people under going hip replacement surgery as Mr Conroy explains: “With a new generation of hip implants and techniques we are seeing an increase in the numbers of younger people who need surgery but don’t want to wait or to live with pain.”