Treatment options for hip arthritis

How is hip arthritis treated?

The most common complaint from people with arthritis in the hip is the pain that it causes them. While many people can cope with some discomfort, constant (chronic) pain can be hard to live with and can have a real effect on mood and psychological wellbeing, as well as physical activity. Stopping the pain, or significantly reducing it, is an important step in helping you to manage life with arthritis.

There are a number of 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. We will look at the available treatments under two headings, ‘non-surgical’ and ‘surgical’.

Non-surgical treatments for hip arthritis

Unless your arthritis is at an advanced stage, your doctor will usually start with non-surgical treatments first. These treatments are helpful at different stages of arthritis.

  • Analgesia: this is the medical term for pain relief. 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.

In the early stages of hip arthritis, an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol can help to manage any pain sufficiently. 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.     

  • Physiotherapy: Expert guidance from a physiotherapist can help to strengthen the muscles around your hip to compensate for the effects of arthritis. Physiotherapy 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.

    The Circle 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. 

People with arthritis can benefit from mobility aids as well as more specialist exercise equipment. Circle hospitals feature state-of-the-art equipment like our AlterG anti-gravity treadmill.

  • Weight loss: Your hip is a weight-bearing joint. 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 our dieticians, can help you develop an effective weight loss programme.
  • Exercise: 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 exercise is beneficial for long-term health as well as for helping keep your hip moving. Swimming can be a particularly good form of exercise for people with arthritis, as the buoyancy and support provided by the water reduces the stress (also known as the ‘load’) placed on the joint.
  • Steroid injections: As arthritis progresses in the hip joint, pain and stiffness usually also become worse, with painkillers having less of an effect in successfully 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 injections will be given by your doctor at Circle, 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.   

Surgical treatments for hip arthritis

When hip arthritis progresses to the extent it is no longer being successfully managed by non-surgical means, your doctor will probably talk with you about the possibility of surgery on your hip. A discussion with your doctor is the best way to determine if surgery is appropriate for you, and which surgical procedure would provide you with the greatest benefit. One of the most common procedures to treat hip arthritis is a total hip replacement:

  • Total hip replacement surgery: 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, play a round of golf 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 level of pain and stiffness you’ve been suffering from due to arthritis.

    Once the joint has been replaced, the surgeon will use stitches to carefully close any cuts made. Small drainage tubes may be left in for up to 48 hours.

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