By Linette Lai, The Straits Times

When Mr Tiang Ko Kang could no longer walk without wincing from the pain in his hip, doctors said it was time to get an artificial replacement for the joint.

But rather than cut through muscles in the buttocks - as is traditionally done - his surgeon at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) went between the muscles in his thigh instead.

This new technique means less pain and faster recovery for patients, as the muscles do not need to be stitched back, said Dr Pang Hee Nee, who did the operation.

Dr Pang, a consultant in the hospital's orthopaedic surgery department, learnt the technique during a one-year training stint in Canada.

While only 5 per cent of doctors in the United States used this technique five years ago, around 30 per cent now perform surgery this way.

Dr Pang is currently is the only doctor at SGH to use the new method, although he is training others. The hospital sees around 300 patients who require hip replacement surgery each year, the majority of whom are over 50.

"The older patients tend to delay treatment because they are scared of the pain," said Dr Pang, who hopes the new technique will encourage people to have surgery earlier.

Instead of cutting the muscles, doctors pull them apart - steering clear of blood vessels and nerves - to operate on the bone underneath.

"The muscles are never taken down (in this surgery), they are just spread apart," said Dr Pang.

The hospital did its own study of 50 hip replacement patients, half of whom were operated on with the new technique. They generally reported lower pain scores and were able to walk more quickly.

They also stayed about two days in hospital, compared to five days for those who underwent traditional surgery.

For Mr Tiang, who had his operation last year, life has completely turned around.

The 66-year-old retiree had exhausted all avenues of treatment, including physiotherapy. Now, he goes to the gym four times a week, plays golf, and even tries to clock 10,000 steps a day.

Recounting a recent golf trip in Manila, he said: "The first nine holes, (we had) no buggy - just solid walking. Last time, I couldn't even dream of it."