As we age, it’s common to develop arthritis in weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. The cartilage that cushions each joint can wear down over time, just like how your favorite sweater might wear away at the elbows.
When it happens to our hip joints, this wear and tear is called hip osteoarthritis. While this can happen at any stage in life, the average age of onset is between 60 and 80 years old.
Dr. Seth Cooper, an orthopedic surgeon at Florida Medical Clinic, explains how hip osteoarthritis is diagnosed and treated so that you can manage your symptoms and continue to stay active.
What is hip osteoarthritis?
The hip joint connects two bones—the femur (thigh bone) and the pelvis, which form a socket for the femur. These two bones are cushioned by cartilage. Osteoarthritis occurs when that cartilage cushion wears down, causing the two bones to rub together.
This rubbing can cause pain and stiffness, and even make it difficult to bend, walk, or stand up. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, meaning it gets worse over time. While there is no way to completely reverse hip osteoarthritis, an orthopedic doctor can work with you to develop a treatment plan that can reduce your pain and help you regain lost mobility.
Who’s at risk of developing hip osteoarthritis?
Anyone of any age can develop osteoarthritis, but there are some risk factors that make it more likely. These include:
- Having a family history of arthritis
- Having a history of participating in high-impact sports (like football or gymnastics) or manual labor (like working in construction)
- Injuring your hip in the past, such as during an accident or fall
- Having a related medical condition, like hip dysplasia
The most common hip osteoarthritis symptom is pain and stiffness in the affected hip, especially when walking or bending at the waist. This pain usually starts gradually and becomes worse with age.
If you have hip osteoarthritis, you might find that your symptoms are the worst after waking up in the morning, after exercising, or when the weather changes. Pain might also radiate downwards into your leg.
How does Dr. Cooper diagnose hip osteoarthritis?
After Dr. Cooper reviews a patient’s medical history and symptoms, he performs a physical exam, checking for tenderness in the hip with and without pressure. During this exam, you may be asked to move your leg to assess your self-directed range of motion, then have your leg moved for you to assess your passive range of motion. He’ll also check for crepitus (a grating feeling in the joint), issues with your gait, and any sign of injury to the soft tissue around the hip.
To get a more accurate sense of how far a patient’s osteoarthritis has progressed, Dr. Cooper may order one or several medical imaging tests. An X-ray can show joint narrowing, bone changes, and spurs, while an MRI or CT scan can help assess the condition of the soft tissues surrounding the hip.
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How is hip osteoarthritis treated?
While there isn’t a single pill or surgery that can “cure” hip osteoarthritis, there are lots of ways to manage the pain, stay mobile, and slow its progression. Treatment often consists of a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, physical therapy, and even surgery in severe cases.
1. Lifestyle Changes
Incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle can help improve osteoarthritis symptoms and strengthen your joints and bones. That might involve:
- Exercise. Regular low-impact exercise can reduce pain and stiffness and strengthen the muscles around your joints. Skip basketball and jump rope, though—stick to things like walking, yoga, swimming, and resistance-based stretches, all of which put less strain on your hip joints.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats can help fortify your bones and joints. Avoiding sugar, excess alcohol, and fried foods can also help.
- Stop smoking. Studies have shown that smoking tobacco makes arthritis worse. Stopping smoking—even if you’ve been a lifelong smoker—can improve your symptoms and reduce the risk of future complications.
- Use a mobility aid. A cane or walker can make it easier to get around, even if you don’t use one every day. Be sure to consult with a doctor or physical therapist on how best to use a mobility aid to avoid straining your muscles and joints.
2. Physical Therapy
While exercising at home is important, a physical therapist can show you how to bend, twist, and lift without putting too much strain on your hip, as well as show you targeted exercises that help strengthen your hip and the surrounding muscles.
If you’ve never been treated for osteoarthritis before, your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy before pursuing other treatment avenues, like prescription medications or hip surgery.
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are medications you can take to help manage hip pain and inflammation.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers that contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (ibuprofen) can help with daily relief for minor aches and pains. However, not all patients can safely take OTC medicines like these, so be sure to discuss your options with your doctor.
Furthermore, your doctor may also recommend other medications if OTC drugs aren’t enough. These include stronger anti-inflammatories and steroid injections.
4. Hip Surgery
If a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and physical therapy aren’t enough, your doctor might recommend hip surgery to restore your mobility and reduce pain.
There are different types of surgeries, depending on the severity of your hip osteoarthritis and how much it affects your daily life. Types of hip surgery include:
- Total hip replacement. Also called hip arthroplasty, this procedure replaces the ball and socket of your hip with prosthetics.
- Partial hip replacement. Also called hemiarthroplasty, this involves replacing just one part of the hip with a prosthetic. This is commonly performed on patients with hip fractures.
- Hip resurfacing. This is often recommended for younger, more active patients. Instead of replacing the ball and socket of the hip, resurfacing involves removing damaged cartilage and placing a smooth cap over the thigh bone to reduce friction and pain.
- Osteotomy. Osteotomy is helpful when the bones of the hip become misaligned. During the procedure, a surgeon cuts away some of the bone and realigns it for a better fit.
Like any surgery, these procedures come with risks like blood clots, infections, and nerve damage. When discussing your options, your orthopedic surgeon will tell you more about the specific risks of each procedure and help you determine which is the best surgery for you.
Make an Appointment with an Orthopedic Doctor
Pain in your hip from osteoarthritis can make it hard to walk or even do daily tasks—but with an orthopedic doctor to help you manage symptoms and improve your mobility, you can get back to living your life.
About Seth Cooper, MD, FAAOS
Dr. Seth Cooper is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in caring for patients with orthopedic injuries and has extensive training in hip and knee replacement surgery. After completing a fellowship in orthopaedic trauma at Vanderbilt University, he has dedicated himself to helping all of his patients reach their desired outcome, whether that’s getting back on the field or walking without pain. No matter the procedure, Dr. Cooper takes care of his patients throughout the entire process, from consultation to full recovery.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your orthopedic doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.