Is it healthy for older people who have hip replacements to take up running or jogging?
“This is a complicated question with no clear answer as of right now,” says Joseph Zeni, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, who has studied and often treats people with hip replacements.
On the one hand, he says, in laboratory testing, “the wear rate of the prosthesis is related to the magnitude and duration of load.” In other words, more pounding translates into shorter lifespans for artificial joints.
In theory, that finding could mean, he says, that “when someone frequently places a lot of force on their hip,” as during running or jogging, the artificial joint will wear out more rapidly than if someone participates only in lower-impact activities, such as walking, cycling or swimming.
On the other hand, Dr. Zeni says, prostheses in people do not necessarily behave like those in the lab, and there is mixed evidence about the real-world effects of running or jogging among people with artificial hips. In a 2014 study, 23 adults who returned to or began jogging after hip replacement reported few problems five years after their surgery.
But that was a small group and a relatively short-term follow-up.
More broadly, in a 2014 review of relevant studies, Dr. Zeni and a colleague looked at outcomes among far more people with hip replacements participating in a variety of sports, including running, and found that such activities did occasionally result in dislocations, fractures, loosening of the prosthesis, and the scraping off and scattering within the body of metal fragments.
But there was little evidence that most people with hip replacements who take up running will experience such calamities.
The upshot, Dr. Zeni says, is that someone with a replacement hip who would like to run should talk frankly “with both their surgeon and their physical therapist.”
People also shouldn’t rush to the running path after surgery, he says. First, be sure that the affected hip has full range of motion and all nearby muscles are at full strength, which could lessen the chances of joint problems.