‘Walking skills’ programme boosts hip replacement recovery

World Health Matters – Norway – by Gary Finnegan – Researchers in Norway have shown that physical therapy can have a significant impact on recovery times for patients who have had hip replacement surgery.The study tracked osteoarthritis patients after hip surgery and, over a 12-month period, measured their capacity to walk and climb stairs.

Results of the study appear in Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), and could have important implications for rehabilitation of the thousands of people having total hip arthroplasty every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in developed countries, 10% of men and 18% of women 60 years of age and older suffer from OA.

To investigate the effects of a walking skills training programme on walking, stair-climbing, balance, physical function, and pain, the research team recruited participants undergoing total hip arthroplasty at two hospitals in the Oslo area.

Patients were enrolled consecutively from October 2008 through March 2010, with 68 patients randomised to either a training group (35) or in the control group (33). Participants had a mean age of 66 years, with 35 women and 33 men taking part in the study.

Participants in the training group engaged in 12 sessions that were led by a physical therapist twice a week. Each 70 minute session was solely performed in weight-bearing positions and included physical activities such as sitting to standing, walking over obstacles, walking with turns, and climbing stairs. The aim of the training programme was to improve patients’ flexibility, strength, coordination, balance, and walking endurance following surgery.

Results show those who took part in the walking programme displayed significant improvement in physical performance measures and self-reported physical functioning at five months following surgery compared to the control group.

Compared to baseline measures (3 months post surgery), 66% of subjects in the training group and 15% in the control group improved their walking distance to 164 feet (50 metres) or more by the fifth month following hip replacement surgery.

At 12 months post surgery the training group showed greater improvement in walking distance and stair climbing abilities than the control.

“The training programme was well tolerated by patients and no complications were reported,” according to Kristi Elisabeth Heiberg, a PhD candidate at the University of Oslo in Norway and lead author of the current study. “Our findings suggest physical rehabilitation helps improve mobility and function in patients who received hip replacements.”