What Is Osteoarthritis Of The Hip: A Complete Guide

Throughout your lifetime, your joints go through a cycle of wear and repair. As they repair naturally, their form and structure may change. This is osteoarthritis.

According to the British charity Versus Arthritis, osteoarthritis of the hip is the most common type of osteoarthritis¹. Osteoarthritis of the hip occurs when damage to your joints causes the cartilage covering your bones to wear down. This can be very painful and uncomfortable as it results in more friction.

There are several reasons why you might develop osteoarthritis of the hip and some people are more at risk than others. If you are experiencing symptoms or you have just received a diagnosis, know that there are effective treatments that make symptoms more manageable. You may even be able to delay the progression of the disease.

Find out more about osteoarthritis of the hip, including the symptoms to look out for, possible causes, how it is diagnosed, and effective medical, surgical, and alternative treatments.

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What does osteoarthritis of the hip feel like?

Osteoarthritis symptoms generally appear gradually, and in the initial stages of the disease, just one or two joints are affected. While many patients with hip osteoarthritis suffer persistent, agonizing hip pain, the severity of symptoms may vary from person to person.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip include:

  • Pain and discomfort when putting pressure on the affected area

  • Difficulty with movement and completing everyday tasks

  • Stiffness

  • Bone spurs (excess lumps of bone) on the hip that are usually painless

  • Swelling around the joint

What causes osteoarthritis in the hip?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. The ends of the bones that meet in your hip joint are covered by cartilage, a type of tissue that reduces friction and allows your bones to move against each other painlessly. Over time, the layer of cartilage covering your bones gets damaged, making them rougher and thinner.

When your cartilage gets damaged, your bones are less protected. They may rub against each other, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness. The injured bones may start to expand outward and generate bone spurs to compensate for the loss of cartilage.

The exact cause of osteoarthritis of the hip is unknown at this time, although it generally occurs with age since damage builds up over time. Some risk factors enhance your chance of developing osteoarthritis of the hip, including the following:

Genetics

Osteoarthritis of the hip may occur because of genetics². If you have a history of osteoarthritis in your family, you have a higher chance of developing the condition.

Obesity

If you are obese, you are more at risk of developing osteoarthritis of the hip. The extra weight you are carrying places more strain on your joints and damages them over time.

Research³ has linked obesity to hip arthritis, which has been shown to occur in some cases. However, it is worth noting that obesity is more strongly associated with knee arthritis than with hip arthritis.

Injury

Osteoarthritis of the hip may develop as a result of a serious injury or having surgery on the joint.

Moderate activity levels and training do not cause hip osteoarthritis, but particularly strenuous, physically demanding activities that are repeated again and again may increase your chances of developing the condition in the future.

How is osteoarthritis of the hip diagnosed?

Although there is no specific test for osteoarthritis, it is often detected by X-ray. The X-ray may reveal signs of osteoarthritis, such as the constriction of the joint and swelling of the joint edges.

If your doctor notices signs of osteoarthritis in your hip, they will perform a thorough evaluation and review your health records. They will ask you questions based on the following criteria:

  • Which symptoms you are experiencing

  • Where you are feeling pain

  • How intense is your pain

  • Which aspects of your daily routine are affected by the pain

Your doctor will be able to tell you how severe your osteoarthritis is. They will also tell you whether or not you will need to have surgery in the coming years.

How is osteoarthritis of the hip treated?

Prevention and control are among the best options for treating osteoarthritis of the hip. A medical professional can determine the most appropriate treatment choice for your condition, taking the severity of your osteoarthritis, your general health, and your lifestyle into consideration.

The main objectives of treatment include:

If you are suffering from mild osteoarthritis of the hip, your doctor may advise you to take it easy, rest your hip joint, and certainly cut down on activities that are making the condition worse. The progress of your osteoarthritis may slow down if you take steps to protect your hip joint.

There are several other methods for treating osteoarthritis of the hip, including physical therapy, medicines, lifestyle adjustments, and alternative therapies. These are discussed below.

Treating osteoarthritis of the hip with drugs

These over-the-counter or prescribed drugs may help to ease symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen taken orally may help to control pain and inflammation. Most are available over the counter, while others can only be obtained with a doctor's prescription.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids (cortisone) are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that can be taken orally or injected directly into the hip joint. They work by reducing inflammation and relieving pain, although they cannot treat the underlying causes of the condition.

Opioids

Using opioids such as tramadol (Ultram) for arthritis-related hip pain is only recommended in the most severe cases of hip osteoarthritis. Opioids may be prescribed if other treatments have failed to provide relief.

Lifestyle changes for treating osteoarthritis of the hip

The following lifestyle strategies may help to protect your hip and delay the progression of osteoarthritis. They may also be helpful in managing your symptoms, improving mobility, and generally making day-to-day life much easier.

Weight loss strategies

Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis of the hip. The excess weight bears down on your hip joints, damaging them and causing discomfort.

Losing weight may help you to avoid further damage and prevent your osteoarthritis from getting worse. It will also reduce the strain on your joints and lessen your pain. Losing weight will also help to improve your general mobility and flexibility.

Your doctor will advise you to lose weight if it is impacting your joints and causing you pain. They will be able to recommend weight-loss strategies and refer you to a dietician if necessary.

Exercise and physical therapy

Osteoarthritis of the hip usually causes pain and poor mobility. As a result, you may find it difficult to stay active. This is challenging, because inactivity may result in weight gain and make your symptoms worse.

It is important to try to stay active even if you have osteoarthritis of the hip, and effective pain relief will help you to keep moving. Regular physical exercise may help you build muscle, maintain a healthy weight, enhance your balance, and strengthen your hip joints, all of which are beneficial.

Your flexibility and range of motion can be improved with physical therapy conducted by a specialist. Your therapist may focus on strengthening the muscles in your hip and thigh and improving your mobility. If you find physical activity particularly challenging, your doctor may recommend a cane, a walker, or other assistive equipment to help you.

Surgery for osteoarthritis of the hip

If non-surgical approaches have failed to alleviate your symptoms, surgery could be the best option for you. The type of surgery you have will be determined by your age, physiology, and any underlying health conditions.

Total hip replacement

Total hip replacement is the only procedure that completely removes osteoarthritis in the hip. It is extremely effective in relieving pain, increasing stability and mobility, and improving the overall quality of life.

During total hip replacement surgery, the surgeon will remove all the pieces of your hip and replace them with new, artificial ones.

Hip resurfacing

Hip resurfacing is a less common type of hip replacement surgery. Instead of removing and replacing the whole hip, your surgeon will just remove the damaged surfaces and replace them with metal.

Complementary and alternative therapies

All drugs and surgeries carry potential side effects, so you might prefer to try an alternative therapy. Combining these therapies with traditional medical or surgical interventions may also be helpful.

Remember to speak to your doctor before trying anything new so that you don’t put yourself at risk or worsen your symptoms. There is little to no scientific evidence to suggest that these methods work for osteoarthritis of the hip, but some people find that they do.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that may help to relieve your symptoms. An acupuncture therapist will gently insert fine needles into specific parts of your skin. Acupuncture is thought to stimulate the body’s natural pain-relieving hormones and divert your focus away from your painful hip. Some people find acupuncture very relaxing, which may decrease pain and tension.

Yoga

Yoga practice may help to strengthen the muscles surrounding your painful hip joint, stabilizing it and lowering discomfort. Seek advice from a certified yoga teacher who will be able to suggest the most effective routines and poses. They will also be able to ensure you are moving safely. If you practice yoga without guidance, you may be at risk of injuring yourself or worsening your hip pain.

Massage

Massage helps to increase circulation while reducing stress in your muscles. When combined with conventional hip osteoarthritis therapies, massage therapy may be a very beneficial complementary treatment.

Hot and cold therapies

Hot and cold treatments can provide effective short-term relief from symptoms.

For example, you might find that a hot water bottle or a heat pack helps to ease your pain, relax your muscles, and reduce stiffness. An ice pack on the other hand (or even just a bag of frozen peas) may help to reduce the swelling in your hip. Cold therapy will also help to relieve some of your pain.

The lowdown

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the cartilage in your joints. When you lose cartilage, your bones begin to rub against one another. This friction might cause pain and discomfort over time.

Several treatments, ranging from over-the-counter drugs to total hip replacement surgery, have been shown to alleviate hip osteoarthritis symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

If you begin to experience symptoms such as pain or stiffness, you should speak to your doctor. Beginning therapy as soon as possible will significantly improve your outlook and may even reduce the likelihood of needing surgical intervention.

Have you considered clinical trials for Osteoarthritis?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Osteoarthritis, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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