Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | June 28, 2013

In the Long Run; marathons after hip replacement surgery

A marathon runner returns to the sport she loves after having both hips replaced

“I was too far gone,” says Anne Marie Mulhern of her attempts at relieving her hip pain with prescription medication and cortisone injections.

Hip pain is unpleasant for anyone, but it really cramps a marathon runner’s style.

“I had severe pain in my hips during long runs and marathons that eventually led to an everyday limp and lots of over-the-counter pain killers,” recalls Mulhern. In February 2012, she was the last official finisher in the Austin, Texas marathon. It took her seven hours to finish a race that she previously walked in the same amount of time. (Walking the 26 miles about 11 years ago was an especially impressive feat, given that Mulhern had recently had a brain tumor removed.) After the Austin marathon, she had a lot of pain just walking.

Surgeries (one on each hip) were the last resort and her best options. Fortunately, Mulhern got recommendations from two people she trusts – her chiropractor and her vet. They both urged her to see Dr. Lawrence Yenni, an orthopaedic surgeon whom Mulhern calls “beyond excellent.”

Returning to marathons was one of Mulhern’s biggest goals. Dr. Yenni was hesitant to clear her for running, but Mulhern says, “After he saw the condition of my bones and my recovery, he approved some running post-op. I was in to see him seven months post-op on the second hip, and he encouraged me to try and wear them out … or at least that’s what I think I heard him say.” Mulhern is going with what she thinks she heard and running like the wind.

Mulhern describes the surgery as “easy” and says the Duke Raleigh class she took to acquaint her with what to expect after surgery and during recovery was a tremendous help. “That was a great worry preventer for me and my boyfriend, who was to take care of me when I got home,” she says.

Her physical therapist ensured she could dress herself and get into and out of a car and up and down stairs before they signed her out of the hospital. Mulhern gives Duke Raleigh’s staff high marks: “They were very thorough in prepping me before surgery, caring for me in the hospital and making sure my transition to home went smoothly.”

Her recovery progressed quickly. “I was able to stand holding onto the bed the day of surgery and walk with a walker the day after,” she says. A few weeks after surgery she was doing what she calls “the granny shuffle.”

She had three sessions with a physical therapist after the first hip surgery and one after the second. She says, “They knew I was motivated, willing and able to keep up with the exercises. Every week after the second hip surgery, I added a mile to my weekly long walk, so at five weeks, I was walking five miles.”

Running has been a passion for Mulhern for 30 years, but she wasn’t always an athlete. “I used to weigh 220 pounds,” she says. After reading books that pointed to running as the best and most easily accessible calorie burner, she was, as they say, off to the races.

“I’m now 61 years young and have run/walked 96 marathons and nine ultramarathons,” she says. “I’ve never been a serious competitor, but I have won a few age group awards.” If you’ve never heard of an ultramarathon, it’s a term that refers to any race longer than 26.2 miles. Mulhern has done a 50K, six 50-mile runs and nearly finished two 100-milers.

Her personal best was when she was in her 30s and finished a marathon in 4:00:15. But speed isn’t her goal; doing a marathon in all 50 states is. Six months after her second hip replacement, she walked the Yakima River Canyon Marathon in Washington – her 36th state. She plans to do a double (two marathons in two days!) in September – and may even make it a triple – all as walking marathons. “I don’t want to screw anything up,” she says. “And it’s just as far if you walk it as if you run it!”

Living in the country – between Wake Forest and Bunn – allows Mulhern plenty of space to run and pursue another hobby: riding her Harley. She also loves gardening and running her own business, On the Run Accounts, which provides mobile bookkeeping to small businesses.

Her recovery continues. “My longest run is now eight miles,” she says. “I’ve done that once weekly since the marathon. I am working now on building strength and speed. I have no pain in my hips, and it’s a joy to be able to run. I just can’t express how wonderful … to just run, at whatever speed, with no pain. Other parts may start barking, but the hips are doing great!”

 

Learn more about the services available at Duke Raleigh Hospital.


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