So the leg suddenly swells up four days out from hip replacement; does this mean a deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
After my mother’s hip replacement surgery (fracture repair), I thought that the surgical leg looked pretty good; I was surprised it wasn’t swollen up.
The second and third day, same thing: There wasn’t much swelling.
It wasn’t a “fat leg” as I had anticipated.
The nurses and the physician’s assistant mentioned nothing about a delayed swelling.
So when my mother was transferred to the rehab center, and I saw how swollen the entire leg had become, I couldn’t help but think DVT.
Was it normal for such swelling (edema) to occur several days after the hip replacement surgery, skipping the first three days?
She also had a suspicious-looking bulge of retained fluid behind her leg, below the knee.
I couldn’t help wonder about a popliteal DVT, even though the nurse there said it was from the compression stocking.
Furthermore, my mother was complaining of leg pain.
I asked her to place her hand where it hurt, and it went straight to her mid-thigh.
I pushed for an ultrasound. The facility ordered a mobile ultrasound that came in the following morning. Her leg was clear of any DVT.
“The hip and thigh can get quite swollen after a hip replacement,” says Barbara Bergin, MD, board certified orthopedic surgeon at and co-founder of Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates. (Dr. Bergin was not my mother’s surgeon.)
“As long as it is getting better, it may not be something to get too concerned about,” adds Dr. Bergin.
“This is something a patient should really discuss with their doctor, simply because some swelling can be associated with complications like infection or a blood clot.”
I called the orthopedic wing at the hospital to speak to a nurse about delayed swelling in the leg following hip replacement surgery. She said this was perfectly normal.
Bottom line: Swelling several days after a hip replacement may not be a DVT…but it may be a DVT…it can go either way.
So what to do? Do not keep silent. Point it out to nurses and doctors. Ask about it. Have it checked. Trust your gut!
Dr. Bergin is a general orthopedist, surgically and conservatively treating all manner of bone and joint conditions. She enjoys educating patients so they can emerge stronger than they were before their orthopedic injury or surgery.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.