A “joint” is an area where two or more bones come together. These bones have a slick rubbery protective covering, called “cartilage,” on the areas where they meet. This cartilage serves as a friction reducer and shock absorber, thereby prolonging the health of our joints.
Osteoarthritis, or simply arthritis, occurs when your joint cartilage degenerates as a result of repetitive stress.
Over time, this cartilage can thin and crack, eventually wearing away, leading to a painful “bone on bone” situation. Thinning of your joint cartilage is often accompanied by the development of “bone spurs” and/or joint deformity further disrupting your joint function.
Hip arthritis is common, affecting up to one-third of the population. The likelihood of you developing osteoarthritis increases as you age, and appears to be at least partially inherited from your parents. It is more common if you have been overweight and if you were subjected to repetitive injury, including occupations & sports requiring prolonged standing or heavy physical exertion.
An early symptom of Hip OA is prolonged stiffness upon arising in the morning and following periods of inactivity. You might complain of the inability to put your socks on, shave your legs or climb stairs. Groin, thigh and buttock pain are common. In some cases the pain can radiate into your lower leg. Cracking and popping of your hip when moving is possible.
It is sometimes difficult for doctors to differentiate between hip osteoarthritis and lower back problems that can also cause hip pain. Your doctor will likely X-ray your hip to determine the extent of your arthritis (graded 1-4 based on severity).
Arthritis cannot be cured, but your symptoms can often be relieved. Treatment of hip arthritis may include exercises, especially water-based programs like “water-aerobics.” Your doctor may use physical therapy modalities and will likely stretch and manipulate your hip, as this has been shown to be effective at relieving symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend that you avoid aggravating activities, especially those requiring you to rotate your hip internally (i.e., pigeon toed” movements), and to maintain a healthy weight. You will be taught home stretching and strengthening exercises to help you recover. Taking 1500 mg of Glucosamine and chondroitin has been shown to help some arthritis sufferers.
In more severe cases, you may need to use a cane (in the opposite hand) to take weight off the arthritic hip. If conservative treatment fails to relieve your pain, your doctor might recommend consultation with an orthopedic hip specialist to consider joint replacement.