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Shaq Had a Hip Replacement – Will I Need One if I Played Sports?

March 30, 2023

Even one of the greatest hoop players of all time can’t avoid wear and tear on the joints. Earlier this month, former Los Angeles Lakers center Shaq had a hip replacement – a custom-sized one, most likely, for his 7’1”, 325-pound frame.

While 51 might seem young for such a surgery, Daniel Witmer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hartford HealthCare Bone & Joint Institute, says it’s not unusual, especially given the physical nature of O’Neal’s career.

“The most common age for patients to undergo hip replacement is 50-80, although they can be performed at almost any age,” Dr. Witmer explains. “The youngest hip replacement patient I’ve taken care of was 16 and the oldest 102.”

Worried that your sports background has destined you for a hip replacement down the road? Dr. Witmer offers factors that can cause young people to need surgery, the potential impact of sports and what life looks like after hip replacement.

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What causes young people to need hip replacement?

While the average age range he cites is roughly when joint arthritis begins to affect people, Dr. Witmer says there are several reasons younger people might develop early arthritis and need a hip replacement. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Repetitive trauma
  • Injury
  • Previous surgery around the hip area
  • Congenital deformities of the hips such as hip dysplasia

If I played basketball or another sport, am I destined for a hip replacement?

Good news for all you retired athletes – a background in sports doesn’t guarantee a hip replacement down the road.

“Sports such as basketball do not necessarily lead to the development of arthritis in everyone who plays them,” he says. “It is more likely that a combination of small injuries combined with the repetitive trauma of the sport, leads to the joint wearing out.”

Because some players suffer these injuries and others do not, the sports themselves cannot be cited as the cause for knee or hip replacements, he adds.

> Related: Am I Too Old to Get My Knee or Hip Replaced? What to Consider at Age 70, 80 and Up

What’s life like after hip replacement?

Once he recovers from the surgery, O’Neal should be able to play a game of pick-up basketball or enjoy other sports like skiing, hiking, biking, tennis and golf.

“We don’t recommend running or jogging long distances for fun as it can wear out the plastic in the joint faster. Typically, the joints used in modern implants, if well taken care of, can last 30 or more years,” Dr. Witmer says.