I had a total hip replacement four months ago. My recovery has been great and my consultant has given me permission to start cycling and swimming. But it would be more convenient if for the time being I could use my exercise ball to tone up at home. What would you advise?
It’s good that you are taking seriously the need to get back to full fitness after your operation. As I’m sure your consultant explained, to get the best out of your new hip, it is crucial to do your physiotherapy and then get yourself into a lifelong exercise habit.
As a general rule, by three to four months post-op a new hip should be able to bear your weight safely, allowing you to return to regular exercise. It is, however, essential that your consultant or GP gives you official clearance, as many people have complicating circumstances or conditions that may affect their recovery timescales.
Your consultant has suggested swimming and cycling for good reasons. Both activities are low-risk for your new hip, as they don’t involve heavy impact (unlike, eg, jogging or a stepper). They will therefore allow you to build leg and hip muscle strength safely. The only caution I would add is that if you are swimming, be wary of doing breast-stroke leg kick, as this puts quite a strain on your hips. The freestyle (front crawl) kick or backstroke are better. Alternatively try deep water jogging or water aerobics.
The other great benefit of swimming or cycling is that both can be excellent ways to get your heart and lungs working. For many people, a new hip is the culmination of several years of increasing pain and loss of mobility, particularly if your joint was arthritic. And the sad fact is that when you slow down and stop moving around, you start to put on weight. That in turn puts more strain on your heart, which like any other muscle, becomes weak and inefficient if you don’t give it regular exercise.
So while your first priority is to strengthen your hip and leg muscles, this is closely followed by the need to get your cardiovascular system fighting fit. Do these two things and you will feel as though your life has been transformed within just a few months.
As you may have guessed, that leaves the exercise ball a bit lower down the list of priorities. If you are already experienced at using it, you can start doing so again, but in addition to, not instead of cycling or swimming. The exercise ball is really a tool for conditioning your stomach and back muscles, not your legs and hips, and certainly not your heart and lungs. There is a small risk, too, that if you are sitting or lying on the ball, you might roll awkwardly, putting a bad stress on your new joint. Anyway if you’ve done no abdominal or back exercises for four months or more, doing your core exercises on a mat will be quite hard enough — you simply don’t need to use the ball for a while yet.