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Posterior Versus Anterior Hip Replacement: Get the Facts

About a half million people have hip replacement surgery every year in the U.S., and researchers say that number is on the rise, probably at least in part due to an increasingly active aging population. But an increase in the number of people having hip replacement isn’t the only change that’s going on. Today, there’s a shift in the way hip replacement surgery is being performed. Knowing the differences between the two major approaches — anterior hip replacement and posterior hip replacement — is an important part of mapping out your own treatment plan.

Posterior vs. Anterior Hip Replacement: What’s the difference?

One of the primary differences between posterior and anterior hip replacement is the location of the incision. Posterior hip replacement surgery is the “traditional” approach to surgery. In the posterior approach, the incision is placed on the side or the back (posterior) of the hip area. In the anterior approach, the incision is placed on the front (anterior) side of the hip. As it turns out, where you place the incision makes a big difference in your recovery, and it can even have an impact on your outcome.

Sparing muscle tissue

Making the incision in the posterior portion of the hip means the surgeon has to cut through major muscle groups or detach them from the bones in order to access the joint and perform the joint replacement surgery. Those muscles control how your hip joint functions, and when they’re cut or detached and then reattached, they obviously need time to heal before you can really start to use your new hip in any meaningful way.

When the incision is located on the anterior portion of the hip, there’s no need to cut through major muscles. Instead, Dr. Lee can use special instruments to move the muscles to one side. Since the muscles aren’t cut, your recovery time can be significantly shorter than with the posterior approach, and it also tends to be less uncomfortable. Since there’s less pain during recovery, that means you’ll also need less pain medication and your rehab program can progress more quickly.

Better outcomes, shorter stays

Both posterior and anterior hip replacement offer good outcomes for the right patient populations. But because the posterior approach cuts through the muscles, there’s a higher risk of dislocation following surgery, typically within the first year. Using the posterior approach also increases the likelihood of damaging or injuring the posterior capsule (the network of ligaments that surround the hip bones), and that can also increase the risk of dislocation.

Not surprisingly, because the anterior approach is less invasive and causes less tissue damage, most patients have a shorter hospital stay as well. Plus, the anterior approach tends to allow patients to walk unaided more quickly and even bend and cross their legs long before those movements are allowed following a posterior hip replacement surgery.

Is anterior hip replacement a good choice for you?

Just because more patients are opting for the anterior approach to hip replacement doesn’t mean the procedure is ideal for every person. Some people may benefit — and have better results — with the traditional posterior approach. For instance, if you’re very muscular or if you suffer from obesity, the extra muscle or fat tissue can make it more difficult for Dr. Lee to navigate the joint space using arthroscopic instruments. In those cases and some others, he may recommend the posterior approach instead.

Learn more about anterior hip replacement 

Not every orthopaedic surgeon can perform the anterior approach to hip replacement. It takes special training and significant experience to achieve optimal results. At Orange Orthopaedic Associates, Dr. James Lee uses his expertise in the anterior approach, coupled with the most advanced, state-of-the-art techniques and technology, to help ensure every patient's surgery and recovery are successful. To find out more about anterior hip replacement surgery and whether or not you’re a good candidate, call the office or book your appointment online today.

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