An abduction pillow is a medical recovery device most commonly used to keep the legs stable after hip replacement surgery, though this sort of pillow can be useful any time a person needs to keep his or her legs still; various surgeries and procedures may require its use for at least a little while to help facilitate the healing process. The pillow is often little more than a foam triangle that is essentially wedged between the legs. It connects to the thighs and sometimes also the calves with soft straps, and is almost always intended for use in bed. Doctors and other healthcare providers often require patients to sleep with this sort of pillow to prevent rolling and turning that can cause damage to newly-healing tissues, and depending on the nature of the injury or operation a person may also need to spend most of the day in the device during the early part of recovery. Some motion and time away from the pillow is usually necessary to avoid bedsores and other problems, though.
Origin of the Name
Those unfamiliar with the term “abduction pillow” may be tempted to think that this item is some sort of prop used for kidnapping. In fact, the name "abduction" comes from the medical term for a certain kind of leg movement. "Hip abduction" is when the thighs are moved apart, angling the femur, which is the main leg bone, out to the side. An abduction pillow keeps a patient's legs at just the right angle so that a new hip joint will not pop out of place, and also keeps the patient from rotating the hip or pelvis too far in other directions until everything has had a chance to heal sufficiently.
Most Common Uses
There are several kinds of hip surgery that will require that a patient remain immobile for some period of time, but one of the most common is hip replacement surgery. During this kind of operation, the worn ball joint or socket of the hip is replaced with a metal one. Since the patient's muscles and the new joint can be easily injured by too great a rotation of the hip, care providers often recommend or sometimes even require that patients use a pillow designed specifically for abduction in order to keep everything properly aligned.
Using the pillow is, in most cases, relatively straightforward. A care provider will usually place it between the patient's legs with the narrowest end of the triangle pointing towards the crotch. The pillow itself is typically made of foam or another soft but firm material, and in most cases two sides of the triangle are already hollowed out to form slots for the legs. The patient's legs are then secured to the sides of the foam pillow using hook and loop straps. These straps are usually thick, but their main purpose is not complete immobility — the goal is to keep the pillow from slipping, not to keep the patient from getting out. In most cases they’re very easy to loosen and remove.
Risks and Precautions
An abduction pillow's straps should not be so tight as to slow circulation. Blood loss to the legs and feet can cause a range of potentially very serious complications, particularly for people who are already in a recovery mode. It’s also really important for the patient to have his or her position changed every two hours or so in order to prevent bedsores and other skin problems. He or she may need to have the ankles elevated in order to encourage blood flow, too, particularly if the pillow is being used for long periods of time.
Most patients just out of hip surgery spend most of their days immobilized by the pillow, and successively get strong enough to spend more time independent of it. Slow exercises for the feet, leg, and hip muscles are important so that these muscles do not weaken post-surgery. A week or so out, patients will typically use the pillow only when resting or at night, though a lot of this depends on the specifics of individual healing and a medical care provider’s advice. In general people need to keep their hips immobilized for at least part of the day for anywhere from six to 12 weeks following surgery.