My Experience with Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia has been my constant companion since birth. There were some clues, as a child, that all was not right. I was pigeon-toed, somewhat stiff-gaited, and tripped easily. In my twenties, painful symptoms emerged, and I became aware that my right hip was problematic.

Always thin and athletic, I swam, played softball in my younger years, then ran cross country in college. In my grad school years (ages 21-25) I continued to run daily for exercise, but started to feel deep aches in my right hip and groin that sometimes kept me from sleeping at night. Like many other athletic young people I knew, I decided it was “no pain, no gain”, and kept on running — and kept on experiencing bouts of deep, throbbing hip pain that became increasingly more bothersome.

When I became pregnant with my first child at age 25 in 1984, I traded running for aerobics classes. I had some relief from hip pain and didn’t think about it for a year or two, until my little daughter grew heavy enough to cause a sharp twinge in my hip when I lifted her up to carry her around. As my baby grew to be a toddler and then a preschooler, I continued to walk and go to aerobics classes for exercises. By the time I was in my late twenties, I was beginning to limp and decided that hip pain had been persistent enough for enough years that it was time to see a doctor. I consulted an orthopedic specialist at West Virginia University (Ruby Memorial Hospital) in Morgantown, WV.

By this time, my oldest brother had completed medical school and was an orthopedic surgeon. His advice to wait as long as possible before considering any kind of surgery was echoed by the first doctor I consulted. Dr. Blaha gave me some options: total hip replacement, which he did not recommend at my age (then 28); periacetabular osteotomy, which was still a relatively rare surgery in 1988 and promised only a 50-50 chance of success; or wait, and protect my deteriorating hip joint from further damage as much as I was able.

I chose option three. From about 1989 on, I used a cane to decrease pressure on my right hip joint, took up swimming for exercise and watched my weight. Dr. Blaha said that five extra pounds on my dysplastic hip would increase the pressure on the hip by more like 15 pounds. I had to watch my weight and stay in shape via non-impact exercise regimens.

I loved to exercise but given dysplasia I had to take care of not putting too much pressure on my hips in order to avoid any mishap from taking place so I was careful to go through and get some tips on how to do it safely.

For a few years, using a cane (although this sorely tried my pride and vanity), swimming and avoiding high-impact activity worked well. I still limped, however, and felt more pain in my hip joint (particularly groin pain) as the years went by. As I neared age 40, the deep groin pain in my right hip prevented me from sleeping through the night. I had difficulty lifting groceries. At age 35 I gave birth to my second child, my son, and the pain never let up after his birth. No longer would I have stretches of time when the pain went away and I felt strong and healthy. After the age of 35 the pain of hip dysplasia was a constant companion. I continued to consult both my brother and orthopedic doctors in my area. Twice I saw doctors who advised me to go ahead with total hip replacement, and both times my brother talked me out of it, saying I was still too young and it would be better to keep waiting and using the cane and avoiding high-impact activity.

At age 45, in 2004, the deciding factors in opting for total hip replacement at that time were sleeplessness and high blood pressure. The pain had worsened to the point where my blood pressure was elevated. I never had a good night’s sleep. I sometimes had to pull over while driving and wait, occasionally in tears, until the pain subsided enough for me to drive the rest of the way home. I was on prescription narcotic painkillers around the clock for most of the last year before my first surgery in September 2004.

Because I didn’t want my family to have to drive far to the hospital where I was having surgery, I opted for a smaller hospital near home rather than a large city hospital with more experienced doctors and more options. That turned out to be a poor decision. The doctor was very nice, and had a short list of hip surgeries under his belt, but he placed the cup into the acetabulum at a slightly too-vertical angle. I recovered well for a couple of years, then started experiencing problems: the hip joint felt loose. It creaked and popped. Certain movements made it rotate beyond where it felt comfortable. In the fourth year after my surgery it got worse. The artificial joint moved around to the point where it felt dislocated. Sometimes, while driving, it “locked up”. In the fifth year I began to experience groin pain again, along with all the other ominous signs that the prosthesis was failing.

In April of 2010 I had hip revision surgery. The femoral component was left intact, and a highly recommended doctor in a big-city hospital replaced the ball and cup components with a much larger, more stable piece. My brother found this doctor for me, which helped me go through with it again after just 6 years.

So far the new larger hip is doing fantastic. I am swimming a half mile a day and riding a recumbent stationary exercise bicycle for 5-10 miles a day. I am beginning to trust my legs again.

What advice do I have for those of you with hip dysplasia who have not had surgery yet?

  • Wait as long as you can. When your quality of life is compromised to the point where your home life, career or health are adversely affected, it’s time to talk surgery.
  • Use a cane and throw vanity out the window. How to use a cane properly: make sure the cane is tailored to your height. The top of the cane should come up to the top of your hip bone. Use the cane on the opposite side from your injured side. It is extra support for your injured leg. Walk a step on your good side, then lean on your cane (on the opposite side) as you step on your weaker side.
  • Exercise and keep your weight down. Swimming and using a recumbent stationary bike are excellent non-impact heart-healthy exercises.
  • Do your homework and find the best doctor and best hospital you can. Search for hospitals that specialize in joint replacement. Ask your doctor how many hips he/she has replaced. Get as much information as you can before you decide on a doctor and a facility.
  • Don’t let hip dysplasia run your life. It’s something you’ll always have to live with, but do live. Live well. Live joyfully. Live without pain.
Brian Singleton a retired news editor and tech enthusiast. He shares a deep love for science and technology and wishes to connect with others through this his content.

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