Verna’s victory: Triathlons after a hip replacement

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Verna has enjoyed sport all her adult life. Running is a passion she shares with fellow enthusiasts, many of whom have become close friends. She also cycles, swims and has competed in marathon and triathlon events.

As a long-time sport enthusiast, Verna knew sports could come with their fair share of aches and sore muscles, so when she began to feel slight twinges of pain in her left hip as she ran, she wasn’t overly concerned. The pain, however, got much worse and more frequent over several years. 

A bike accident in 2019 meant Verna needed physiotherapy. It was the physiotherapist she saw for that accident who encouraged her to seek treatment for her hip, which, despite not being affected directly by the accident, was limiting her mobility noticeably enough for the physio to want to help. The accident gave Verna perspective on her hip pain: "I could cope with the accident injuries but couldn’t cope with that pain in my hip," she remembers. "That’s when I knew I had to do something."

By that point, Verna couldn’t mount her bike without significant pain that caused her great difficulty because her range of motion was so badly affected. To get on her bike, she’d have to lie the bike down, step over it and then lift the bike up. Running was no longer enjoyable, and even walking was difficult.

Verna began to seek out doctors who could help her get back to running without pain, but she wasn’t encouraged at first by the responses. One doctor told her she should 'act her age' (56 years) and permanently swap running for something lower impact. As it became clearer she needed to consider a hip replacement, she said: "At first, I just thought they were for much older people, and that your life would be significantly changed in negative ways afterwards."

Literature she read about what to expect from a hip replacement certainly backed that up. She was warned the post-surgery rehab period would require adaptations to her house in advance, including raising the toilet seat and sitting in a high chair so she wouldn’t be bending her knees beyond 90 degrees. She felt discouraged and, still in significant pain, wondered if this was her life now. But running came to aid her once more. She was speaking to a friend in her running club when the friend mentioned her partner had had his hip replaced by Giles Stafford and was back to running already. Her friend spoke highly of the surgeon, so Verna booked an appointment.

"I explained the advice I’d been given up until that point," Verna says, "and I just remember him looking confused. 'Why on earth would anyone tell you, you couldn’t run after a hip replacement?' he said, and I just knew that I was in the right place. He understood what I wanted from this operation."

Verna’s consultation happened in 2020, just as the pandemic was transforming healthcare around the country. Despite the increased pressure, "it was an efficient process," she remembers. “Though it certainly wasn’t a normal time, the nurses and all the staff were lovely, and I was still able to have all my scans done. They never cancelled on me.”

Verna had her left hip replaced in September 2020. "Everything went well, and I had a straightforward recovery," Verna says. "Mr Stafford was great. The recovery period was about 12 weeks, but even during that time I lived normally. There was a little modified activity, but I could already do so much more than I could do before the operation."  

In October 2020, less than a month after her operation, Verna took on a walking challenge for Samaritans, a charity that helps people experiencing mental health problems. "I walked at least 5k a day in October and raised over £1000.00," Verna recalls. "I was on an exercise bike even sooner than that, the day after the op. It took three weeks for the wounds to be okay for the water, but as soon as they were, I could swim."

Verna had a few friends who happened to have hip replacements around the same time, and they continue to share tips and support each other. "My friends all rallied around, and they were all so supportive. I can’t pick out one; they were all just incredible."

"I’m stronger now than before the surgery," says Verna. "I’m even a better runner. Since the replacement, I’ve returned fully to running all distances. I do regular parkruns, plus I did a charity ultramarathon in September 2021. I’ve returned to regular cycling and can get on my bike normally now! I’ve started cold water swimming and now love SwimRun SwimBike adventures."

She’s started to feel a few twinges now in her right hip, but she isn’t overly concerned. "Mr Stafford is helping me manage it, and if I end up having to have surgery, I’m confident it’ll all be okay. A hip replacement isn’t the end of the world; for me, it’s been the beginning of a newer, stronger chapter."

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.