What is an Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement?

Over time, the hip may wear down and produce irregularities resulting in pain and a loss of range of motion. Regular activities such as walking or getting out of cars can suddenly become unbearable.

When the hip becomes worn bad enough, one treatment option prescribed by your joint specialist is a total hip replacement. While a traditional, posterior approach is an option, an anterior approach total hip replacement can cause less pain and help patients recover more quickly.

What Happens During an Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement?

During a total hip replacement, the ball and socket in the hip bone are cleaned and replaced. With anterior approach total hip replacement, a surgeon starts by creating a small incision on the front (anterior) of the body as opposed to the traditional posterior (back) approach. An anterior total hip replacement allows for a faster recovery and less downtime for patients because the surgeon can spare muscle and tissue as opposed to cutting them (more on these benefits below).

Typically, recovery and rehabilitation time can be cut by several weeks using the anterior approach total hip replacement technique.

The surgeon uses precision instruments to remove the damaged cartilage and bone from the socket. The new hip is a durable prosthetic. The damaged part of the femur (thigh bone) is replaced with a metal stem and a ball is placed on top of the stem to recreate the ball and socket of the hip.

Anterior approach total hip replacement is recommended for people who have had trauma to their hip or have had damaged caused by arthritis or years of wear and tear.

A patient may consider hip replacement if they are experiencing:

  • Persistent hip pain despite pain medication
  • Hip pain that worsens when walking
  • Hip pain that interferes with your sleep
  • Hip pain that affects your ability to walk up or down stairs
  • Hip pain that makes it difficult to rise from a seated position
  • Stiffness in the hip

How Does an Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement Differ from a Posterior Approach Total Hip Replacement?

Unlike the traditional posterior approach to total hip replacement that creates an incision in the back of the hip, the anterior approach makes an incision in front of the hip. This incision in the front of the hip allows the surgeon to spare muscle and tissue as opposed to cutting them.

The anterior approach allows for a faster recovery, a shorter hospital stay and less downtime for patients.

When the patient is eligible, an anterior total hip replacement surgery may be suggested because of its benefits, which include:

  • Faster recovery
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Fewer restrictions following surgery
  • Reduced risk of dislocation
  • Smaller incision scar (typically 4-5 inches vs. 8-9 inches with the posterior approach)
  • No “hip limp” because an anterior approach does not affect the buttocks muscles

What Should a Patient Expect Following an Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement?

After surgery, a patient will recover in a hospital room for one or two days. Patients will be encouraged to sit up and try walking soon after surgery. Patients will undergo physical therapy for several weeks following surgery to improve strength and range of motion.

Patients will begin walking with a cane or walker and progress to standing on their own as healing and physical therapy continue. Typically, patients are able to return to work within a few weeks and are completely healed in 8-12 weeks.