Ballerina able to achieve professional-standard arabesque after hip replacement

By Rod Minchin, PA
·3-min read

Ballerina Rachel Merga was devastated at the thought she would never be able to do the splits again following her hip replacement – fearing it would end her chances to return to the stage.

Yet three years on, she can execute the move and many others in her professional classes after her Exeter hip implant.

Ms Merga, 50, said: “I was absolutely terrified when I realised I needed a hip replacement because I had arthritis.

“I delayed it for as long as possible, but I was in constant pain. I knew it was the only option.

“It’s made such a difference. I had no idea how much range of movement I’d be able to regain post-op, and my surgeons were honest that they didn’t know either.

“They’d never had a patient with the range of movement I’d had to begin with. Immediately after the operation, I could only sit in a right-angle chair.

“Trying to do any exercise made my legs shake. But that only lasted a few weeks.

“Now, I can do the splits again. I can do multiple turns on one leg. I can arabesque, and leap across the floor.

“I’m comfortable in a professional-level dance class and I really feel ready to get onto the stage again. I had no idea if that would ever be possible again.”

Ms Merga, who lived near Honiton in Devon when the operation was carried out in 2017 and has since relocated to London, first encountered problems in her early 40s.

“I just knew something was wrong,” she said.

“As the pain got worse, I was devastated – I thought my career was over.

“There isn’t much information out there on dancers who have had hip replacements, even though it’s becoming increasingly common, and at younger ages. Dancing puts a strain on the body, and that can cause real hip problems.”

Ms Merga was diagnosed while dancing with a company in Washington DC, and touring the Mid-West and East Coast, but she delayed having surgery until she was dancing with companies in Denmark, then Sweden, when she realised the pain was unbearable.

She returned to Devon, to consult specialists at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, renowned for the world-leading Exeter hip implant.

Rachel Merga has been able to continue her career as a ballerina after having an Exeter hip fitted (University of Exeter).
Rachel Merga has been able to continue her career as a ballerina after having an Exeter hip fitted (University of Exeter)

“You hear these horror stories that you’ll never be able to sit cross-legged again after a hip replacement, but the surgeons there were brilliant,” said Ms Merga.

“They really listened to me, and even watched videos of me dancing, so they could understand my range of movement. I had no idea if the operation would be successful, but I knew I had to go for it.”

Ms Merga, also a Pilates instructor, slowly rehabilitated herself in the studio, making incremental progress until she could once again dance at a professional level.

“It’s amazing really,” she said.

“There is a difference between my two hips – on the side that hasn’t been operated, the neurological connection is intact, so I feel my way into balancing.

“On the side that has been operated, I’ve had to relearn how to find my balance – it’s almost from the outside, rather than the inside.

“That’s been the biggest challenge, and I’m very pleased with the results. It’s such a tough time for dancers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. If it wasn’t for that, I think I’d be back on stage by now.”