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A partial hip replacement is a surgical procedure during which the end of the femur is reshaped and reinforced. A surgeon shaves away damaged bone tissue and places a protective ceramic, plastic, or metal cap over the femur where it connects with the hip joint. Patients who experience relatively minor dislocations or fractures due to sports injuries, car accidents, or age-related degenerative disorders are typically candidates for partial hip replacement. The more invasive option of total hip replacement is generally reserved for serious injuries.
Before considering partial hip replacement, a doctor carefully reviews x-rays and physical symptoms. Some minor injuries can heal with rest and medications. When it is unlikely that the hip joint can recover on its own, the doctor schedules a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon can explain the procedure in detail, discuss the different options for prosthetic materials, and outline the risks and benefits involved.
Most partial hip replacement surgeries can be performed in less than one hour in a hospital or surgical center. The patient is placed under general anesthesia and the front of the leg and hip are sterilized. The surgeon can choose to conduct open surgery, where a long incision is made diagonal to the joint, or a less-invasive computer-assisted procedure that requires only one or two small cuts. Computer-assisted surgery is usually preferred whenever the amount of bone that needs to be resurfaced or realigned is minimal.
During either procedure, the surgeon uses specialized scalpels, saws, and files to smooth the end of the femur bone and remove damaged cartilage from the joint. A hard prosthetic cap is placed over the bone and re-situated into place. Caps are usually made out of durable, lightweight metal or ceramic materials. Once the femur is reattached, the surgical scars can be sutured and the patient is brought to a recovery room. X-rays are taken to confirm the success of the procedure and the patient may be allowed to leave within a few hours.
Surgeons generally prefer to perform partial hip replacement when a patient is younger than 55 and hopes to return to regular physical activity following the procedure. Modern advancements in surgical techniques and prosthetic materials greatly reduce the risk of complications and improve the long-term success rate. With about one month of rest and two to six months of dedicated physical therapy, most people are able to return to nearly the same level of activity as they enjoyed before suffering their injuries.