Considering the big jump in the number of hip replacements performed each year—according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the amount of procedures more than doubled over the last 10 years—you might think the surgery is no big deal. Yet while it may be more routine than ever before, it still comes with big risks and is something to avoid if possible, says Joanne Halbrecht, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at the Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine in Colorado (in fact, see what happens when a joint replacement goes wrong).
"The most common reason for hip replacement is osteoarthritis, or the breakdown of cartilage on the surface of the hip joint," says Halbrecht. "This rough cartilage causes inflammation and pain," she adds, which can necessitate surgery when symptoms become unbearable.
While there are instances when a hip replacement may be unavoidable—for example, genetics, rheumatoid arthritis, or trauma to the area, such as a hip fracture—there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you keep your joint forever. Here, Halbrecht and other orthopeodic surgeons share their best healthy-hips advice. (Make 2017 YOUR year with 365 days of inspiring weight loss and fitness advice in the Prevention calendar and health planner!)
Maintain a healthy weight.
Carrying around extra pounds causes arthritis to progress more quickly and increases pain in arthritic joints, says Halbrecht. "Preventing a hip replacement surgery begins with maintaining healthy hip joints through proper weight," she says. "Every 10 pounds of weight gain above the waist results in an extra 75 to 100 pounds across the joints, and cartilage can only withstand a certain load before it starts to break down." In fact, losing just 11 pounds over a 10-year period has been shown to decrease the risk of painful arthritis in women by 50%, says Halbrecht. If you already have hip pain, steer clear of high glycemic index foods, such as sugar, white flour, white rice, and potatoes. "These are inflammatory and can make arthritic joints more painful," she says. (These 15 teeny tiny changes to lose weight faster will get your scale moving.)
Get regular exercise.
Not only will exercise help you maintain a healthy weight, but it'll also strengthen the muscles around your hips and back—the all-important "core," says John Ryan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "When your core is strong, it helps to keep the hips more supported and in better alignment," says Ryan, which keeps them healthy and pain-free. Ryan recommends varying the types of exercises you do. "I tell my patients to hop on a bike, elliptical machine, swim, walk, and hike," he says. This will help you use different muscle groups to gain overall strength and flexibility without overtaxing the muscles and joints in just one area (such as your hips). (Just avoid these 4 exercises joint specialists would never do.)
Modify your activities.
Luke Spencer-Gardner, MD, an orthopedist at the Hip Preservation Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, suggests following this rule: If it hurts, don't do it. "Sometimes it's appropriate to push through some pain, but in general—and certainly when it comes to hip pain—modifying activities is a powerful non-surgical option to avoid continued damage and pain in the hip joint," he says. For example, if deep squats cause discomfort, try half squats or leg extensions instead, he says. "For patients who have pain when walking or running, try taking the workout to the pool to offload impact on the hips." (Decode your aches with these 6 things your joint pain is trying to tell you.)
If you have consistent hip pain, seek out a specialist.
The earlier a hip problem is diagnosed, the better, says Michael Banffy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. "We know that through proper strengthening exercises and avoidance of certain motions, we can decrease hip impingement symptoms," he says. "However, sometimes it's necessary to perform minimally invasive surgery to eliminate the impingement, which can lead to hip preservation and ideally avoidance of a hip replacement down the road." Talk to your primary care physician if your hip pain is intense or a consistent, nagging issue, and ask for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon or hip specialist. "Overall, if you're experiencing hip pain, don't ignore it," adds Banffy. A specialist can properly diagnose and treat any issues to help you preserve your hip joint as long as possible."
This article originally appeared on Prevention.com.