Total Hip Replacement: Anterior Approach

What is total hip replacement with anterior approach?

A total hip replacement is a type of surgery. It replaces your hip joint with an artificial one. It is also called hip arthroplasty. Healthcare providers can do these procedures from behind the hip, to the side of the hip, or from in front of the hip. Total hip replacement with anterior approach refers to surgeries done from in front of the hip. These surgeries may also be called mini, modified, minimally invasive, or muscle-sparing surgeries.

Your hip is a ball-and-socket joint. Your thighbone (femur) bends inward near the hip. The upper end (head) has a round shape. The neck is the part that bends inward. The shaft is the long straight part. The head of your femur fits into a cup-shaped cavity in your pelvis. This cavity is called the acetabulum. A flexible and tough protective tissue called the cartilage covers the inside of the acetabulum and the femoral head. Tissue lining your joint makes fluid that with the cartilage helps your bones slide easily against each other. Your muscles and ligaments (strong fibrous tissues) hold the joint together.

Healthcare providers do hip replacement surgery to replace a damaged hip joint. The surgery also eases pain and helps improve movement. During the surgery, the healthcare provider will replace parts of your hip joint with artificial parts. The artificial hip can be metal or ceramic, or a combination of these. It may have a lining made of plastic, metal, or ceramic. Using the anterior approach may allow your surgeon to do the surgery through a smaller surgical cut (incision). The cut is in the front of the hip rather than in the side or back, like in traditional hip replacements. Having your surgery done this way may have other advantages. These are:

  • Less muscle trauma
  • Less pain
  • Earlier and easier recovery
  • Less limping
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Decreased chance of hip dislocations

These surgeries often take place under regional or general anesthesia.

Why might I need a total hip replacement with anterior approach?

If you are having problems with your hip, your healthcare provider may first recommend other treatments. These include medicine for pain or inflammation, walking aids, and physical therapy. If you keep on having pain and have a hard time getting around, hip replacement surgery may be an option. The purpose of most hip replacements is to treat pain and damage from arthritis. In osteoarthritis, long-term wear-and-tear damages the joint. In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and tissue damage. Other reasons for getting a hip replacement include:

  • Broken or injured hip
  • Bone that has died because it did not get enough blood (avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis)
  • Bone tumors

Total hip replacement with anterior approach is not an option for everyone. You may have other surgical choices, such as total hip resurfacing. Talk with your healthcare provider to see what makes sense for you.

What are the risks of total hip replacement with anterior approach?

Total hip replacement through the anterior approach is a relatively safe surgery. But it does carry some risks. Possible problems are:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Injury to nearby nerves
  • Hip joint dislocation
  • Leg length changes
  • Loosening of the joint

There is also a slight risk that the surgery will not get rid of your pain or that it will not improve your mobility. Rarely people develop new pain or have less mobility after surgery. There may be other risks based on your age and health problems. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risks and concerns.

How do I get ready for a total hip replacement with anterior approach?

Your medical team can tell you how to prepare. Before your surgery, it is important to give a history of all your health problems. Let your healthcare provider know if you have any drug allergies. Also let him or her know if you have a more recent problem, like a sudden fever. Tell him or her if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant. Discuss any medicines you may be taking. That includes over-the-counter medicines and supplements. Ask if you need to stop taking any before your surgery. In some cases, your healthcare provider might want other tests before your surgery. These might include:

  • X-rays, to get information about your hip
  • MRI, to get information about your hip and the tissues around it
  • Electrocardiogram, to make sure your heart rhythm is normal

Your healthcare provider will probably tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. You may also want to make some changes in your house so your recovery is safer and smoother. For example, you may want to add a handrail in your shower and remove any throw rugs.

What happens during a total hip replacement with anterior approach?

Your healthcare provider can tell you what to expect. An orthopedic surgeon and special nurses will do the surgery. An anesthesiologist will make sure you don't feel any pain during it. The surgery may take a few hours. In general:

  • You will likely get general anesthesia so that you can sleep through the surgery. If you get regional anesthesia, you may also get medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy.
  • Medical staff will closely watch your heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs before, during, and after the operation.
  • You may get antibiotics to help prevent infection.
  • The skin around the surgical site will be cleaned. Any hair will be removed.
  • The surgeon makes a cut in front of your hip joint.
  • The surgeon separates your muscles to see your hip joint.
  • The surgeon removes the upper part of your femur and the damaged cartilage and bone from your pelvis.
  • The surgeon replaces your acetabulum and the head, neck, and part of the shaft of your femur with an artificial joint.
  • The surgeon may take an X-ray to make sure the joint is in the right place.
  • The surgeon or an assistant will close up the incision.

What happens after a total hip replacement with anterior approach?

After your surgery, you will go to a room to be watched while your anesthesia wears off. You will get medicine to ease pain. You may get medicine for nausea if needed. After your initial recovery, you will go to your hospital room. You should be able to start eating and drinking again slowly. You may need to wear stockings or plastic devices to help prevent blood pooling in your legs. You may be told how to do breathing exercises and coughing to help prevent pneumonia.

Your healthcare provider may decide to get an X-ray or another imaging test to look at your hip. You may also need tests to check your blood counts. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is OK to start moving around and when you can put weight on your leg. Depending on how you are feeling, you may go home in a day or so.

You may be told what types of activities you can do and those you should avoid. As you start to get around, you may find that you need to use a cane or crutches. You may also need to work with a physical therapist to regain your mobility and strength. You should be able to do light activities within a couple of weeks. During this time, you may want to have extra help. Some drainage from your incision for the first few days is normal. But tell your healthcare provider right away if you have:

  • Increased redness, swelling, or drainage
  • A high fever
  • Severe pain
  • Pain that doesn’t decrease

Keep all your follow-up appointments. Be sure to follow all your healthcare provider’s instructions. If you have external stitches or staples, you will likely have them removed about a week after your surgery. Your artificial hip may wear out or loosen over time. Eventually, you may need another surgery. You may be able to extend the life of your implant by exercising regularly and taking precautions to avoid falls. You may need to take antibiotics before dental visits and minor surgical procedures. They can reduce the risk of infection to your new hip.


Eric E. Johnson, MD, FRCSI (Hon)
Chief, Orthopaedic Trauma Service
Mullikin Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Orthopaedic Trauma Division

Erik N. Zeegen, MD
Chief, Joint Replacement Surgery
Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Joint Replacement Division

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Eric E. Johnson, MD

Eric E. Johnson, MD


Chief, Orthopaedic Trauma Service

Mullikin Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

Orthopaedic Trauma Division

Erik N. Zeegen, MD

Erik N. Zeegen, MD

Chief, Joint Replacement Surgery

Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

Joint Replacement Division


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