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Hip arthritis is a common cause of hip pain. We explore the causes hip arthritis and how it can be diagnosed and treated.
Many people find that their hip pain settles down naturally over time and without any lasting effects on their mobility. However, some people will continue to experience persistent pain or stiffness in their hip that continues to get worse.
While there are many causes of pain or stiffness in the hips, one of the most common is a certain type of arthritis known as osteoarthritis.
However, this mobility of the hip joint also means that it is susceptible to wear and tear as well as injury and disease. This wear and tear can sometimes result in severe pain and a lack of mobility in the hip.
Covered by soft tissue, muscle and cartilage, your hip is a deep and stable joint. This makes it hard to injure. However, the most common cause of hip pain is arthritis in the joint rather than an injury.
Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints of the body. It can occur in people of all ages, including children.
There are several different types of arthritis, including:
In a healthy joint, the articular cartilage covering the ends of the bones is smooth. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage to thin, leading to friction in the joint when the bones move over one another.
As arthritis develops, this thinning of the articular cartilage can become so severe that the bones of the joint end up moving directly against one other, with no protective layer between them. When this happens, the pain in the hip can be extreme.
The body is usually very good at trying to repair damage, but osteoarthritis causes cartilage to wear down at a faster rate than the body is able to repair it.
Sometimes the healing process itself can lead to the formation of new bony growths in the joint. Called bone spurs or osteophytes, these hard lumps of bone lead to additional stiffness and pain, further reducing the degree of pain-free movement in the hip
The specific causes of osteoarthritis remain unclear, although there are several factors known to increase the risk of developing it. These include:
The exact symptoms you experience will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have and how advanced it is. The signs of hip arthritis listed below are intended for guidance. If you have any of these symptoms you should see a doctor who will be able to help give you an accurate diagnosis.
While many of us may accept a bit of stiffness and mild pain in the hip as a natural result of growing older, pain that is long-term or getting worse should not be ignored.
In the early stages of arthritis, you may not feel the need to see a doctor. However, it is always sensible to seek expert medical advice when you start to lose the ability to carry out certain tasks, or when the pain in your hip reaches a certain level.
Nobody knows your hip pain better than you. When you first see your doctor, they will talk with you about your medical history and what you have been doing to manage the hip pain.
The doctor will examine your hip, thigh and lower back, assessing your range of movement in the joint and the extent of any problems. Hip pain can sometimes occur due to a problem in your back, so this will also be looked at in order to rule out the possibility of referred pain.
Depending on your medical history and the examination, your doctor may arrange for you to have some diagnostic tests to help confirm a diagnosis of arthritis and/or treatment options. These tests may include:
There are several ways arthritis in the hip can be treated and managed, ranging from ‘do it yourself pain relief’ all the way through to hip replacement surgery.
In the early stages, an over-the-counter painkiller, such as paracetamol, can help with hip arthritis pain relief. Analgesia is the medical term for pain relief.
As arthritis develops the pain relief you get from paracetamol may decrease, and your doctor may suggest using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen. As well as reducing pain, these can also help to reduce inflammation. Some NSAIDs can be purchased over the counter from your local pharmacy, while others will need a prescription.
There are many medicines available that can help to relieve pain, but before taking any medicine, you should ensure it is safe for you to do so. If you are unsure, you should consult a medical professional such as a doctor or pharmacist.
A physiotherapist can help to strengthen the muscles around your hip to compensate for the effects of arthritis. Physical therapy may help to restore and maintain function and mobility in the hip for longer than would otherwise be achieved. This can help to delay the need for hip replacement surgery to treat severe arthritis.
Often, people struggling with pain in their hip discover that an easy way to reduce the pain is by lowering their activity levels. However, this can actually add to the problem, as less activity leads to the hip joint becoming stiffer and the thigh muscles surrounding it becoming tighter. As the joint tightens in this way, movement becomes more difficult.
A physiotherapy team will work closely with your consultant and other healthcare professionals to structure a custom exercise plan for you to help keep you as mobile and active as possible, for as long as possible.
They will talk with you about the importance of staying active for as long as possible and will show you exercises you can do to help maintain function in your hip.
While hip arthritis causes pain and stiffness in the joint, it is important that you continue to use the hip in order to stop it seizing up completely. There will be limits to what you can do safely and without causing further pain, but hip arthritis exercises are beneficial for long-term health as well as for helping keep your hip moving.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for hip arthritis, as the buoyancy and support provided by the water reduces the stress (also known as the ‘load’) placed on the joint.
If you are overweight, then reducing your weight can help to reduce the pain you feel in your hip as a result of arthritis. Your doctor and physiotherapist, in partnership with a dietician, can help you develop an effective weight-loss programme.
As arthritis progresses in the hip joint, pain and stiffness usually becomes worse. Painkillers will be having less effective in managing the pain.
Steroid injections (also known as ‘corticosteroid injections’) can be of help in this instance. These anti-inflammatory medicines help to reduce swelling in the hip joint and the surrounding area, reducing pain and stiffness.
These hip injections for arthritis can be given by your doctor, often using ultrasound to ensure the injection is in the correct place.
It will usually take a few days before you start to feel the full effects of the treatment. The effects are short-term, normally lasting for a month or two before wearing off, although some people may find the effects last for longer.
Steroid injections into the hip can be repeated, although most people find that they become less effective over time.
Your doctor will discuss the different surgical procedures with you and determine which one will be of most benefit for your condition. One of the most common procedures to treat severe hip arthritis is a total hip replacement:
Should arthritis in your hip joint develop to the point you are in constant discomfort and have extremely limited movement, a total hip replacement may be advised as the best treatment for you.
With very little pain and a short recovery period, hip replacement surgery is life-changing for many people. It can restore the freedom to move freely, exercise or even just walk to the shops, all pain-free.
During total hip replacement surgery, the damaged and worn bones of the hip joint are replaced with a cobalt/chrome metal joint.
This new artificial hip joint removes the problems caused by the worn articular cartilage of osteoarthritis and is designed to provide friction-free movement. This improves the mobility of the joint, while also helping to reduce the pain and stiffness in the hip joint.
Your Consultant will discuss any potential complications with you prior to surgery.