How Old is TOO Old for a Hip Replacement? Asking for a 92 year old.

Words from Wellilo movement client, Marilyn, about her hip replacement at age 92.

How old is too old for a hip replacement? Maybe this question has not crossed your mind, but knowing the answer it could improve the lives of thousands of people. 

Marilyn is a nonagenarian who had an incredibly successful hip replacement surgery at the age of 92, after years of increasing pain and decreasing quality of life.

Her story is important to share because there are few publicly available stories about major musculoskeletal surgeries on individuals in their 90s. It is being shared here both because it is heartwarming, and because more of these stories of resilience and support need to be told and shared.

While there are medical concerns that can get more delicate and complex with each passing decade of life, there is no reason to deny anyone a higher quality of life based on their age alone.

Ageism and ableism sometimes go hand in hand. But it is essential for us all to witness -- especially those of us in the healthcare space -- that humans are capable of living well at any age. 

(The photo above is a still from "It's a Wonderful Life" in which Marilyn was a 16-year old extra, circled in yellow.)

Although this story is not about physical therapy, yoga or movement (our clinic’s specialties), it is about musculoskeletal well being. It is about the totality of our healthspan, and how musculoskeletal aches and pains can intersect with overall well being.

We share this story in the understanding that a truly integrative physical therapy approach includes acknowledging the potentially life enhancing role of surgery once other options have been tried.

The wording below is somewhat paraphrased, and should not be interpreted as direct quotes.

The Back Story

Marilyn lives far away from Washington DC, but during the pandemic took exercise / movement lessons with me (Ariele) online. We became friends, and I could tell over the months of working with her that standing and other basic movements were getting more and more painful. Every time we met on Zoom, she would mention the pain from her arthritic hip.

She asked for my thoughts a few times about whether she should get a hip replacement, and I shared as honestly as I could, not having her x-rays or other details in hand. 

But I also understood that the question was not as simple as “Will I make it through the surgery?” but also about all of the potential downsides post-surgery. “What if something goes wrong? What if instead of feeling better, I lose more independence? Or experience more pain and problems like the first hip replacement I got?”.

Although I have worked with countless patients post-hip replacement with stellar results, I could not personally recall working with a patient with a brand new hip who was in their 90s.

I understood Marilyn’s conundrum and hesitation about the surgery on multiple levels.

Fortunately Marilyn is doing fantastically, now 13 months post-total hip replacement, and we spoke by phone recently to share all the lovely details with you. "Interviewer" questions are in bold. 

What made you hesitate to get this surgery?

My first hip replacement (right hip) happened when I was age 83. Overall, that was not a great experience. I remember I had pain after the surgery and my [surgical] leg ended up 2 inches shorter than my other leg afterwards. It made me hobble.

I used to be so graceful. I loved dancing! 

I also did not know anyone in their 90s who had a hip replacement, nor did I have any friends in my inner circle who had gotten their hips replaced at all. In fact one friend told me I shouldn’t do the surgery.

All of that made me nervous to have another hip replacement at my age.

What was your pain like before the second hip replacement?

It was bad. I took pain pills every day. I saw the best physical therapists near me, I wore various patches, tried CBD oils, took frequent hot showers. I also tried exercising to stay as healthy as possible. I tried everything.

But I was severely limited, and it was increasingly uncomfortable to go out to lunch and be in public when I struggled with pain simply standing up from a chair.

What changed your mind about the surgery?

My son talked me into it. I would have never done it without his insistence. I was going to cancel the day before!

I also asked the surgeon how many people he had worked on over age 90 and it was not many. But at least he had some experience with my age group.

How did your recovery go after the hip replacement?

Absolutely amazing. I never took one pain pill. I still do not take pain pills. I didn’t feel any pain, and I have no idea how they cut me and I didn’t have pain. They must have really dialed in the surgery now.

I didn’t have any problem other than being hesitant with walking. But I used and still sometimes use a walker.

It’s been over a year, and I’m careful when I go out. I don’t want to fall. But I go out every day -- shopping, lunch with friends, Starbucks drive through. I no longer drive, but I have someone drive me. I host a weekly mahjong group and no longer have to cancel due to pain or not feeling like it. My group has been playing together for 19 years!

Before the surgery, sometimes pain would make me not want to even join mahjong.

Do you still use a walker?

Yes, but I can walk without the walker around the house. I even sweep my walkway sometimes.

I do have a walker that I can sit on (a rollator) for use in my house if I feel like it, and I have a lightweight walker that I use when I am out and about.

I feel fit as a fiddle.

Do you still go to physical therapy?

Not any more. I did go regularly for months in the first half of 2024.

Now I just go to the gym and do the leg and the arm machines.

What would you tell someone else who is in their 90s, or perhaps late 80s, who is hesitating to get a hip replacement?

I would say “Go do it”, because I had good results. Of course, that is just my experience. But my experience has been very good.

The star of this blog post in 2022:

This article was published Feb 6, 2024

Categories: Chronic pain, Hips, Physical Therapy