What Is an Abduction Pillow?

Patients who have had hip replacement surgery typically need to use an abduction pillow to keep the leg aligned.
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  • Written By: Erica Stratton
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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An abduction pillow, for those unfamiliar with the term, may sound like a prop used in a kidnapping. In fact, it is a certain kind of pillow used to immobilize a patient's legs just after hip surgery. It is made of a large, thick piece of foam shaped like an acute triangle.

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, in the first days after surgery an abduction pillow will be used to keep the patient's legs in proper alignment.

To use the pillow, it is placed between the patient's legs with the narrowest end of the triangle pointing towards the crotch. 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.


Even though it is designed to keep a hip patient immobile, an abduction pillow's straps should not be so tight as to slow circulation. The patient should have his or her position changed every two hours in order to prevent bedsores and other skin problems. He or she will also need to have the ankles elevated in order to encourage blood flow.

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 out to the side. An abduction pillow keeps a patient's legs at just the right angle so that the new hip joint will not pop out of place. It also keeps the patient from rotating the hip too far in other directions until it has healed sufficiently.

For the first day or so, a patient just out of hip surgery will be kept immobilized by the pillow. Over the next few days, he or she should be successively exercising the feet, leg, and hip muscles so that they do not weaken post-surgery, and will use the pillow only when resting or at night. A patient will typically need to keep his or her hips immobilized for six to 12 weeks following surgery.


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Post 4

I've never seen an abduction pillow, but judging by the description they're kind of scary. Anything that straps you in place freaks me out, even when I know it's just a medical tool designed to help me. I guess I've seen too many horror movies where they use those same medical tools to strap people down and maim, torture or kill them!

I wonder if people are naturally afraid of medical strap-down type items and that's why horror movies include them in their themes so much, or if we are scared of medical strap-down things because the horror movies feature them? It's kind of a chicken or the egg thing.

Post 3

@malmal - Sounds like you had a much, much more pleasant experience with using an abduction pillow than I did. I also had hip replacement surgery, but my doctor insisted on keeping my painkillers to a minimum since I'm sensitive to certain kinds and there was some potential for an overdose of sorts if I had too much. So there I am, in extra pain thanks to the lack of meds, and then they put the abduction pillow on me.

The guy who put the straps on was obviously an intern or something -- he was a young man, and he seemed very rigid and by the book about everything. Everything except, apparently, learning how to adjust an abduction pillow. He made the straps too tight! When I complained about discomfort while he was putting them on, he said my pain would go away after and it was normal after surgery. Then he left.

I wasn't there with anybody, so I had to just sit and endure these stupid straps until the next morning when the doctor came to see me. The pillow needed to stay on for a few more days straight, but he loosened the straps up at least. Ugh.

Post 2

@aishia - Yeah, the inventor was probably some doctor or orthopedic surgeon who needed the abduction pillow for one of his own patients. Really practical, specific medical things are usually invented that way.

I can say from experience that being strapped into an abduction pillow feels very stiff and a bit strange, but it's more comfortable than it looks. I had hip replacement surgery, and since I was all numbed up I was really scared that I would accidentally shift and hurt myself without knowing it, so the abduction pillow was very reassuring.

After the first few days, I very carefully flex my ankles and knees and such, and the abduction pillow was used mostly when I slept. It was a comfort knowing I couldn't roll over and hurt myself, especially since I usually sleep on my side so rolling over would probably have been an automatic thing to do.

All in all, the abduction pillow is a great invention that does just what it's supposed to.

Post 1

The name "abduction pillow" is what brought me here. I'm relieved that the term isn't literally about abducting anybody, because if somebody made a pillow specifically for that it would just be scary!

It sounds like abduction pillows are exactly what somebody needs after hip replacement surgery. Whoever invented them must be getting a lot of royalties off of the idea for a pillow that holds the hips at precisely the right angle to support them after hip replacement, I'd imagine.

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