Hip arthritis: an overview

Whether we are walking or running, sitting or standing, our hips are in use countless times every day. Any pain in a hip can have a significant impact on our ability to carry out everyday tasks, such as shopping, exercising or even moving around the house.

Many people find that their hip pain settles down naturally over time and doesn’t have 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. On this hub we will examine:

  • Hip anatomy,
  • What is arthritis?
  • Osteoarthritis in the hip,
  • Symptoms of hip arthritis,
  • Causes of hip arthritis,
  • When you should see a doctor,
  • Diagnostic tests,
  • Non-surgical treatments for hip arthritis,
  • Surgical treatments for hip arthritis,
  • Before your hip surgery,
  • After your hip surgery,
  • Recovering from hip surgery
  • Complications of surgery for hip arthritis,
  • Getting help for your hip arthritis.

Help for your hip pain, with no waiting list.

If you are experiencing pain or stiffness in one or both of your hips, expert help is available. It is very easy to arrange a consultation with an experienced hip doctor at your nearest Circle hospital. With no waiting lists, we can book you an appointment at a time convenient for you. Please contact us to arrange this.

Find out more about hip surgery at Circle Health

Hip surgery at Circle Reading Hospital

Hip anatomy

Your hip joint is formed where the ball-like upper part of your thigh bone (the femur) fits into the cup-like part of your pelvis (the acetabulum). This ‘ball and socket’ structure gives your hip joint a good amount of mobility but unfortunately means that it’s also susceptible to wear and tear by a number of causes, both injury and disease. This wear and tear can sometimes result in severe pain and a lack of mobility in your hip.

Covered by soft tissue, muscle and cartilage your hip is a deep and stable joint. This makes it harder to injure. The most common cause of hip pain is arthritis in the joint rather than injury to it.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition affecting the joints of the body. It can occur in people of all ages, including children. There are a number of different types of arthritis, including:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, causing degenerative changes in the articular cartilage of a bone. Osteoarthritis is described in more detail in the next section.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Caused by the immune system attacking the joints, leading to swelling, damage and sometime a change in the shape of the joint itself.
  • Fibromyalgia: Affects the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Gout: Caused by too much uric acid in the body, this normally affects the big toe although it can occasionally also affect the hip.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica: Caused by the immune system, this can lead to inflammation, pain and stiffness in and around the hip joint.

While osteoarthritis is the most common cause of hip pain, treatments and medical support are available for these other types of arthritis as well. There is currently no known cure for arthritis, but your Circle doctor will give you expert advice on the very best treatments currently available to help reduce your symptoms and to manage any pain you may be experiencing.

Osteoarthritis in the hip

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK. It often develops very slowly, so many people don’t notice the incremental changes it can cause in their joints.

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 ‘osteophytes’, these hard lumps of bone lead to additional stiffness and pain, further reducing the degree of pain-free movement in the hip.   

Symptoms of hip arthritis

The exact symptoms you experience will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have and how advanced it is. The symptoms 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.

  • Pain: Most people first become aware of a problem in their hip when they have unexpected pain in it. While we all experience occasional aches, pains and twinges, particularly if we have been more active than normal, you may begin to notice that you only feel pain in your hip when you move your leg in a certain way, or when you do carry out activities. Arthritis often causes a generalised pain over the whole hip rather than a pinprick, specific localised pain. It may also be worse in the morning or last thing in the evening.
  • Reduced movement: You may notice certain movements, such as standing or walking, becoming more difficult. While this may not be a problem at first, as arthritis develops further in the hip joint, it will start to limit and reduce your movements more.
  • Stiffness: You may feel increased stiffness in your hip when moving your leg. As the joint becomes stiffer, it can have the effect of making your movements feel slower.
  • Weakness: You might feel like you have lost some strength in your hip or thigh. The muscles surrounding your hip may look thinner than usual.
  • Swelling: You may have swelling in your hip as a result of inflammatory changes within the joint. This is known as synovitis and will often settle naturally over time. If it becomes significantly painful, you should see a doctor for advice. 
  • Grinding: Known as ‘crepitus’, this is a grinding, creaking or cracking felt or heard within the hip joint when it is moved.

It is important to note that these symptoms are not exclusively caused by arthritis and other illnesses, injuries and diseases can show similar symptoms. However, they are often a good indicator that something is not quite right with your hip, and it is worth getting checked by a doctor for your peace of mind.   

Causes of hip arthritis

The specific causes of osteoarthritis remain unclear, although there are a number of risk factors known to increase the risk of developing it in the hip joint. These include:

  • Previous injury to the hip joint: A previous injury or operation on the hip joint can increase the possibility of developing osteoarthritis in it at a later date.
  • Age: While osteoarthritis can develop at any age, it is more commonly seen in people over the age of 50.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men. It often begins to develop after menopause, although the exact reasons for this are not yet fully understood.
  • Weight: Obesity carries with it a multitude of health issues and risks and these include an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. Increased weight means increased load and pressure being placed on your weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.
  • Family history (genetics): You may be at an increased risk of developing arthritis if there is a history of it in your family.   

National and international research continues to learn more about arthritis and its causes. All our specialist hip doctors continue to keep abreast of current research, understanding and treatments for arthritis, and many of them are closely involved in ongoing research.

When should I see a doctor?

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. You do not have to ‘suffer silently’ with a hip problem, as medical help is available.  

In the early stages of arthritis, you may not feel the need to see a doctor. Some people say that they’re worried they will be “wasting a doctors time” when they don’t have any significant symptoms. 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.

If your hip pain is significantly limiting your ability to move or is waking you up at night, a consultation with one of our hip experts is highly recommended.

Hip arthritis: diagnosis

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