Should You Go Skiing After Hip Replacement?

by Frank V. Persall

Whether you’ve already had a hip replacement, or you’re likely having one in the future, you’ve probably got a lot of questions in your mind.

Can I go back to skiing with a hip replacement?

Will, I ever I get back to my peak skiing capabilities? 

Could it hurt, to ski with a new hip? 

Will skiing mess up the results of my surgery, or loosen the screws?

When you’re passionate about skiing, these questions can really be upsetting, and it can be easy to obsess over them. After all, the thought of winter with no thrilling rides down the snowy slopes… Doesn’t it just feel sad, dreary, and wrong? A winter with no snow sports is like pizza with no sauce!

...Don’t worry, it’s not all bad. In fact, there’s quite a lot of promising evidence to the contrary!

Skiing After Total Hip Replacement
Skiing After Total Hip Replacement

You may be kept off the slopes, for a time. You may not quite get back to where you were, before your surgery. However, a hip replacement does not mean that your skiing days are done forever.

Today, we’ll take a look at some scientific studies, anecdotal evidence, and lots of professional, medical advice- and help you get yourself ready for a post-operation ski life.

Is A Hip Replacement Is A Good Thing

Let’s just start by pointing out something obvious, yet important to understand;

If you need a hip replacement, you need a hip replacement. The complications and pain that come with long-term hip problems are just not worth it, no matter how much you love your winter sports.

If you have hip problems, to begin with, it’s also quite possible that skiing is already causing more problems for you, anyway. 

We’ve read from lots and lots of skiing fanatics on different forums and blogs, and no one has regretted getting a hip replacement. Your quality of life is so drastically improved, there’s no question.

Even if you never could ski again, it would still be worth it to almost anyone.

That being said a hip replacement does not mean the end of your skiing days! This is something you’ll notice, quickly by reading skiing forums. Tons and tons of skiers, well into their 70’s, have had hip replacements, and continue to enjoy skiing.

So, let’s get more into the specifics of the operation, and what you can expect for your skiing potential.

It Depends on Your Age

The older you are, the longer it will take for you to ‘bounce back’, in terms of your skiing potential, and recovery.

As we age, our bones get less strong, and we lose a significant amount of fat and muscle. That fat and muscle act as very important padding. The older a patient is, the longer they can expect for it to take.

In addition to that, you’ll be more at risk of injury whenever you do get to ski again. You’re best off just being slow, and steady.

That, conveniently, brings us to the next point…

It Takes Time - Don’t Rush Into it

However old or young a skier may be, it takes time for their body to get ready after a hip replacement. In fact, after any joint replacement, it takes a while to be able to start safely playing sports again, in general.

Dr. Timothy Izant at New York’s Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists:

According to a July 2008, study in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, more than half of all joint replacement patients were able to return to sports that they were very active in pre-operatively within three years of undergoing surgery. If patients were avid skiers before surgery, most likely can still continue with modifications like only skiing on groomed trails with no jumps, bumps or uneven slopes.

Dr. Timothy Izant

So, yes it’s very likely that you and those beautiful white slopes and cross-country ski ranges will be reunited again! However, there are a few important takeaways:

  1. You need to take time to fully recover- one study found the average recovery before getting back to skiing was about 10 months, however, don’t rush it if you need more time than that 
  2. You should stay on gentler courses, and avoid jumps, bumps, and sharp turns
  3. You should talk to your doctor for more detailed advice about your situation

It depends on the type of replacement

Not all hip replacements are the same. The most common type is posterior hip replacement surgery, which gives easy access to the surgeon, and is less invasive. Another one that gets used often, however, is anterior surgery replacement.

The most important thing is to communicate your wants and needs to your doctor- ideally before the surgery. This will help them come to a good decision, with you, about what will work best for letting you recover and hop back into your ski boots.

If you haven’t had your surgery yet, be sure to talk to your doctor beforehand about which options will work best for a ski-loving lifestyle. Maybe they’ll know some treatment options that are more ski-friendly!

Replacement body parts are getting better and better, and are not limiting like they used to be. Modern science and health medicine are exploding upwards, every year, and our options as athletes are only getting better, as we continue growing older.

Post-surgery, just make sure you talk to your doctor, too, and get their go-ahead before trying your hand at the slopes again.

Proceed with caution

Yes, you’ll obviously want to talk with your doctor before you start skiing again. That’s a given.

However, perhaps just as importantly, you need to listen to your own body. Pay especially close attention to how it feels, specifically around the joint area. 

While recovering, you should make sure to stay active in joint-friendly ways. Swimming can be an awesome option. This will keep your muscles strong, and keep your body flexible, limber, and healthy- and that’s going to be really important when you get back on the snow.

As we mentioned earlier, this study found that the average skier was back to it after just over 10 months. After that initial wait and recovery, as you slowly get back into skiing, you should be sure (especially in the beginning) to stick to courses that do not challenge your joints or cause a lot of impacts. Ramps, bumps, and sharp turns are all big no-nos.

Although the NIH has an official stance of advising against skiing after a hip replacement, they did a large study with some very promising results, for ski enthusiasts.

Basically, they took 100 people with hip replacements and tracked them for 10 years after the surgery. What the found was pretty surprising- the group that did heavy skiing after the hip replacement had pretty similar levels of wear, compared to the group that did no skiing at all.

As they put it...

“Our findings, combined with the results of previously-published biomechanical studies, do not provide any evidence that controlled alpine and/ or cross-country skiing has a negative effect on the acetabular or femoral component of hip replacements. ”

Pretty exciting! 

They do add, in the end, that it helps to avoid sharp turns on steep slopes.

Still- that’s a far cry from ‘you’ll never ski again’!

There’s a Lot of Hope and Lots of Potential

In addition to these scientific studies, there is just a mountain of anecdotal evidence that skiing after hip replacement is totally doable.

This evidence comes from tons of skiers on ski blogs- as well as from doctors, themselves.

Just look at this doctor he’s a specialist in hip replacement, and many of his patients are avid skiers. He describes many cases where his patients successfully ski with a hip replacement!

The new bone is not made of Styrofoam. It’s hard, durable, and is constantly seen to handle the wear-and-tear pretty darn well.

Yes, you could injure or damage them in a ski accident… Then again, those same ski accidents would also injure your natural hip, anyway (as the doctor in that article says, himself).

So, yes there’s a lot of hope, especially as the science of surgery and joint replacement continues to grow.

It’s important to recover fully and get back in shape before hitting the slopes. Proceed with caution. You should probably skip the triple black diamond slopes…

But, still, the potential for a long, thrilling future full of ski thrills is totally there.

Talk to Your Doctor

The most important thing, no matter what, is always going to be professional medical advice. Always talk to your own doctor before, and after, the operation, about hitting the slopes again.

You’ll want to check in, specifically, right before you start skiing. They’ll be more qualified to advise on your specific situation because they know your case better. All people are a little different, and we all respond differently to surgery.

Closing Thoughts

A hip replacement does not need to be the end of your days on the slopes!

Public health services, like the NIH, will generally advise against it… But, when you look at all of the actual, specific case studies, you’ll find pretty promising results.

At the end of the day, we find a handful of main points:

  • Nothing is more important than communicating with your doctor pre and post-surgery- about your desire to ski. Make sure to get their go-ahead before you put on your ski boots and get on the course.
  • It will usually take at least 6 months, or maybe more like a year before you can safely try your hand (and hip) at the slopes again. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re perfectly recovered!
  • You should make sure that you’re in good physical shape before you try again. Stay active during the recovery, in a doctor-approved way that’s safe and joint-friendly (ask about swimming as an option).
  • You should start slowly, and cautiously. Avoid sharp turns, steep slopes, and rough trails.

You might not ever get fully back to where you were, pre-surgery, as far as your ability to ride the ice. 

Rest assured, though with proper recovery, caution, and doctoral advice… Skiing can still continue to be a part of your life!

***This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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About Frank V. Persall

Frank is originally from the UK, but he has a passion for skiing that knows no bounds. He has made it his life's mission to visit the best ski resorts across the USA and the World. Frank loves spending time with his wife and three children on ski slopes, as they all share his love for the activity.

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