Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Who is Most Affected?

The hip joint is one of the most common locations for osteoarthritis, generally affecting people over the age of 50. Arthritis of the hip is more common in overweight people, with studies showing them to have five times more chance of developing the condition due to the extra stress placed on their hips. There may also be a genetic predisposition, where the joints become damaged simply because a person has inherited a body that wears in an unlucky manner. In addition to injury or repetitive stress, poor bone alignment or the way you walk could also be another factor.

Causes of Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Osteoarthritis of the hip starts when a small amount of the cartilage cushioning the bones of the hip begins to erode, creating some local inflammation and eventually causing the bones of the joint to grind or rub together. A major cause is traumatic injury to the hip and fractures to the bone around the joint. The trauma may be sudden and severe, such as a sporting trauma, but is more commonly associated with overuse of the joint for occupational or sporting purposes. In most individuals the indications do not appear until middle age, but the disease process starts much earlier, with the condition accelerating following trauma to the hip joint.

What are the Most Common Symptoms?

Hip pain is the most universal symptom of hip arthritis but it is possible to go for months and even years with the only symptom being loss of flexibility in the joint. The main symptoms of hip arthritis are pain, crackling, stiffness and inflammation of the affected joint. The rubbing together of the bones will sometimes cause patients to feel or hear their hip creak when walking. The level of pain varies and is described as mild, dull and aching or deep and throbbing. Usually it begins as a minor ache, which can disappear with rest, progressing to sharp pains when the joint is moved, ending in continuous pain. During the early stages the joints are often stiff at the beginning of the day, tending to improve with movement. However, as the condition worsens, a permanent loss of range of motion occurs.

Where is the Pain Felt?

Pain is frequently experienced in the groin and because of this can sometimes be misdiagnosed as a hernia or strain in the groin. It is also possible to feel pain radiating down the front or inner thigh, in the buttocks or knee and sometimes up to the back. There can be pain when pivoting or rotating the hip inward, bending, doing foot care and when getting in or out of a chair or car. Due to the overlapping nerve supply between the hip and knee, it is possible that knee pain may be the only symptom of arthritis of the hip.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Many doctors today believe that weight loss is probably one of the most important treatments. Normally the first lines of treatment for mild osteoarthritis of the hip are pain relievers. Exercising is very important as it helps to keep the hip joint limber but must be ongoing to be effective on a long term basis. Too much or too little activity can make the condition worse and a full range of motion is encouraged to reduce stiffness. Because of its non weight bearing nature, swimming is highly beneficial and water exercises are particularly suited for improving the hip’s range of motion and promoting strength and flexibility in the muscles surrounding it. Hip replacement surgery is sometimes suggested, and although in many cases it is usually an extremely successful operation, a new joint has a limited life span and is usually a final resort.

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