The Pros and Cons of Two Approaches to Hip Replacement: Mini-Posterior and Direct Anterior

Categories: Hip Replacement,Hip Replacement Surgery,News

In my last blog post, I discussed minimally invasive surgery with regard to hip replacement.  While new techniques, instruments and prostheses have been developed specifically for minimally invasive surgeries, there are many well-established approaches to hip replacement. Two which are receiving the most attention are the traditional posterior approach and the direct anterior approach. I would like to share my  experience with both procedures.

The traditional posterior approach is the most commonly used in the United States and throughout the world (about 70 percent). The majority of teaching institutions in the United States continue to instruct as well as perform the traditional posterior as their primary approach. The mini posterior approach essentially is the same as the traditional posterior, however a smaller incision is made and less soft tissue is exposed. Very important with both the traditional posterior and the mini-posterior approaches, if the surgeon is not able to visual critical structure adequately, or if a problem were to arise such as a fracture, then either approach easily be adjusted.

Over the last six years, I have performed more than 2000 primary or first-time total hip replacements using the mini-posterior approach and I am aware of only one patient who dislocated his hip because he fell down stairs. His hip ball was put back in the socket and he has done beautifully since.

Mini-Posterior Approach

The mini-posterior approach involves separating the muscle fibers of the large buttock muscle located at the side and the back of the hip. Because the muscle fibers are separated, not cut, the nerve path is not disturbed and the muscle is not injured. Advantages of this procedure include:

  • The mini-posterior is considered a more straightforward approach then the anterior, resulting in lesser complication rates.
  • There is significantly less bleeding with the mini-posterior approach, notably reducing the necessity of a blood transfusion after the surgery.
  • In my experience, there is a faster and more-consistent recovery with the mini-posterior.
  • I have seen a number of patients who were reconstructed with the anterior approach who developed painful anterior scarring after the procedure. This then becomes  a very difficult problem to solve.
  • Because the mini-posterior is more straightforward, many surgeons think it provides an increased margin of safety for the patient, because the incision can easily be extended if exposure is poor, or if a fracture occurs.
  • Because of the straightforward exposure of the femur, there is less risk of femoral fracture or poor implant positioning. Should one of these events occur during a mini-posterior procedure, they are easier to recognize and correct.
  • Because visualizing the femur is easier, an experienced surgeon can choose the most appropriate femoral implant rather than just the one that is easiest to implant, taking into account the patient’s bone quality, activity level and age.
  • There is less risk of neurological injury.
  • No special surgical equipment is required when performing a mini posterior.

Direct Anterior Approach

The direct anterior approach involves dissecting between the natural intervals of the two main muscles located at the front of the hip and upper thigh. Because the patient is lying on his back, it facilitates using a fluoroscope or moving x-ray throughout the procedure. This does expose the patient to more radiation but can help with component positioning and sizing. There tends to be a lesser incidence of posterior instability with the anterior approach. On the other hand, there may be a slightly increased incidence of anterior instability. Along these same lines, there is a smaller incidence of sciatic nerve injury with the anterior approach but an increased incidence of femoral nerve injury. This is because the nerve is located in front of the hip. Also, because technically it is easier, many patients are being reconstructed with very short stems which are press fit into the bone during an anterior approach. These stems are a new design, and therefore do not have an established track record. Historically short press fit stems have not done well. The hope is that these new designs will, but time will tell.

Disadvantages of the anterior approach include:

  • The nerve which supplies sensation to the front and side of the thigh is vulnerable.
  • The intended interval between the front thigh muscles can be difficult to recognize and there has been an associated increase in injury to the femoral nerve or vessels.
  • The physical build of some patients increases the difficulty. This is particularly true if the person is overweight, has very muscular thighs or is short.
  • It also is more difficult for patients with some patterns of arthritis such as “protrusio,” which causes the worn out ball to migrate inward rather than upward into the socket.
  • As noted above, because the femur is difficult to visualize, component positioning, sizing, and stability are more likely to be compromised. Also, the choice of femoral stem is more likely to be influenced by the approach and not the person’s anatomy and hip mechanics.
  • More soft tissue trauma can result do to this increased difficulty in exposure and then gaining more exposure if necessary. Occasionally this even requires making a second, separate incision.

Although I am trained in both approaches and have trained surgeons in both approaches, I have stopped using the anterior approach because I saw my patients get well faster, bleed less, and have a more predictable result when I performed the surgery using a mini-posterior approach. I’ve come to the conclusion that perceived benefits do not outweigh the risks with the anterior approach, especially when I can achieve the same or more using the mini-posterior.

It is so important to stay focused on the outcome of your hip replacement surgery: excellent results both short- and long-term with minimal risk of injury or complication, and not lose sight of the real goal, which is to create a perfectly positioned reconstructed hip that is stable, balanced and has the best possible chance of lasting more than twenty years.

Ultimately, you and your surgeon should discuss all procedures and technologies available and then trust that your surgeon will choose the best course of treatment and surgical procedure for you.

I know the most important decision you will make is choosing the doctor who will perform your surgery. You should not proceed unless you know in your heart that you will be taken care of in a manner that has the best chance of giving you as perfect a result as possible.

12 Responses to "The Pros and Cons of Two Approaches to Hip Replacement: Mini-Posterior and Direct Anterior"

  1. Marta Posted on December 11, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Thank you for this! My husband, who is only 35, has to consider a THA in the near future and I’m very torn over which approach as the surgeon we really like dos a posterior but I am concerned about dislocation rates in posterior vs anterior. But this blog was a nice nudge toward the posterior. Like you said, consistent outcome is important and this surgeon is excellent and I have great faith in him (I’m a physical therapist and see his patients post-op so get to see the, at least short term, results myself). We have an appointment today to discuss the plan of action.

  2. Tina Posted on December 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Had a total hip replacement aug 2013. Woke up with
    No feeling in my leg and no movement
    Above the ankle to the thigh.Had to use leg brace to
    Remain upright . 4 mts later am using
    Walker to get around. Having physio
    2 x week. Very slow recovery. Also had
    Femor fracture. Nobody wanted to talk
    About this injury to me. . Hospitsl staff
    Would not make eye contact. Very strange
    Behavior. If was 3 weeks after discharge
    That I knew this recovery may take 1-2
    Years!! Felt very uninformed and left
    In the dark to find out about this myself

    • Tina A Posted on March 30, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      Tina, which procedure did you have? Posterior, mini posterior or anterior?

  3. John Decker Posted on March 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I had the mini-posterior at MGH hospital. Stay was 2.5 days. Tossed the cane at three weeks and went back to work. I am 5 weeks out and have been doing beautifully! Still going to rehab to reduce stiffness and increase strength but I am in better shape now than before surgery

    • Herb Posted on August 31, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Who was your surgeon at the MGH?

  4. Sharon Posted on April 29, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Thank you for this information. I am having the mini posterior done in June and my surgeon gave me the pros & cons of both. He is well known as a top doc for 20 yrs & I was persuaded because the mini posterior has less chance of nerve damage & the surgeon has more options for types of spikes, which your article explains well. Even though I was positive I wanted this method done, I was still questioning my decision. Your article has made it clear I made the correct decision, especially since my daughter had nerve damage from an operation years ago.

  5. Annette Posted on June 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    I am scheduled for total hip replacement in about 3 weeks, and none of these procedures/options were discussed with me………….the surgeon just said that it was a risky surgery and he could not guarantee anything!

    Since I previously had both knees replaced (by another surgeon) about 5 years ago and still have problems with the knees i.e. crackling noise/pain, cannot bend them or kneel in church or get on the floor to do exercises, I am very afraid to ending up in a wheelchair or having to use a walker the rest of my life………….I am a very active 65 year old, and very, very worried about the hip surgery. Also, the surgeon said that I would end up having one leg shorter than the other… is this true? ………I am already limping when walking and was hoping that the limp would disappear after the hip surgery.
    Also, I am diabetic and have had two organ transplants and am extremely worried about infections, etc. My question is: should I just tolerate the pain and limp, or take a chance with the hip replacement. Can you suggest any pain medication that would not interfere with anti rejection drugs?

    • holycrossleonecenter Posted on June 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Dear Annette,

      I think it’s vitally important that you go into surgery truly believing in your heart that you are going to do well, and that you are with the best surgeon and team who will help you. Having diabetes and two organ transplants does significantly increase your risk for post-op infection as well as other complications. I would look at the published track record of the hospital where the surgery is scheduled to be sure its performance record is good and its incidence of infection is low. In my experience, most patients who undergo a total hip replacement don’t limp after their surgery and most feel their legs are the same length. There always are conditions or circumstances that may predispose one to limp or feel as if their legs are not the same length after surgery, but in my experience this is the exception. Most importantly, I would meet with your surgeon and discuss all of these concerns. By far the most important variable is the doctor who is doing your surgery and managing your post-op care.

      No, I would not tolerate the pain and immobility, if there is a reasonable way to relieve it. Total hip replacement is one of the most successful operations ever developed and is a remarkably predictable way to relieve pain from arthritic conditions. If your surgeon has recommended surgery, I assume you’re no longer getting adequate relief of pain or able to remain active with conservative measures. I would research and find the physician and hospital that will give you the best chance of doing well. Yes, you do have increase risks. Yes, you can do very well.

      William A. Leone

  6. joy Posted on July 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    I had an anterior right hip replacement in late 2010, I was 72. Had horrible groin pain issues and opted for the antior, I knew of nothing else as I consulted with a surgeon who was trained in anterior.

    I had good results into 5th month post op and then everything went downhill.

    I deal with major nerve damage on front of thigh, almost whole thigh. Iliotibial (IT band) damage, had 2 months of ART release work on this issue.

    It’s been a nightmare for me going into 4 yrs post op soon.

    Granted I do deal with lower back OA and right knee OA and now all worse and now foot/ankle mess, all on right hip side.

    I was so against doing this surgery but groin pain was very bad and crushed bone in the groin. No groin pain NOW….but all the other mess of it all.

    I’m so against any other replacements as I have other issues, but working with alternative treatments, out of pocket money, as my hip replacement has been a horrible drama/saga.

    • holycrossleonecenter Posted on August 20, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Dear Joy,

      I’m sorry to learn that you are so disappointed with your hip replacement. I think it is important to define and isolate why you’re doing so poorly. Other conditions, to which you alluded, such as having a back condition and an arthritic knee and foot, all can masquerade what the real or most debilitating problem is. These other conditions need to be defined and hopefully ruled out as the primary source of pain.

      I find it curious that you report having a good result for the first five months after your surgery as this suggests that the surgery was done for the right indication, i.e., you did well and were pleased for the first five months after THR. This suggests that something changed after five months. For example, the stability of the components could have been achieved initially, but then proved inadequate so you developed either a loose cup and/or a loose stem. I also think infection must be investigated and ruled out. The first step to rule out infection is to have two simple blood studies done, an ESR and CRP. If these values are elevated, further investigation with hip aspiration should be considered.

      Unfortunately, injury to the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is a common complication after the anterior approach for hip replacement. This most often leaves the patient with an area of decreased or uncomfortable sensation or numbness over the anterolateral thigh (top, outside area of the thigh), not the entire thigh. Also, if this nerve injury occurred, I would expect these symptoms to be present immediately surgery, not five months post-op. If they did develop five months post-op, then you have to consider that it could be a manifestation of back pathology compromising a nerve root. Femoral nerve function also should be assessed.

      I’m not sure why you developed a problem with your IT band. The anterior approach typically does not violate this structure. Possibly, it’s secondary to an altered gait pattern or hip mechanics.

      My recommendation is to go back to your surgeon and share your concerns and issues to see if a fresh and thorough reevaluation won’t help define the problem(s) and solutions.

      Good luck,
      WAL

  7. Larry Posted on September 2, 2014 at 9:19 am

    On July 17th, I had a left THR. The doctor used the posterior procedure. I’m now 6 weeks out and doing good. Not wanting to go through all the restrictions, I was considering anterior for my right hip, which would require not having it done locally since doctors here have been doing it for only 1 year. After reading your articles, I have decided not to have anterior. My doctor does not do mini posterior, therefor I have a 6″ incision. Not putting you on the spot, but would it be advantageous for me to drive 200 miles to have a consultation done by you?

    • holycrossleonecenter Posted on September 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Hello Larry,

      If your surgeon did a great job, that is something to respect. The actual length of the incision really is not important, but rather how well the components were implanted and the hip mechanics restored. It sounds like he did fabulous job. That being said, you should have the additional surgery where you feel you will have the best chance of doing well.

      The size of the incision is determined by how large and tight the hip/thigh is and how much tissue (fat and muscle) exists between the bones of the hip and the overlying skin. Sometimes, when a surgeon is working too hard to reconstruct through a very small incision, the ends of the incision tear and the tissues are traumatized. This often leads to a less than optimal component position. Remember, what you’re hoping to do is have a hip construct that will last 20 years or more. My strategy is to make as small an incision as possible, but one that allows for excellent exposure and reconstruction without brutalizing the tissues.

      Best,

      Dr. William A. Leone

Leave a Reply