X-ray for hip arthritis, explained

To aid diagnosis of arthritis in the hip joint, a doctor may arrange for you to have a hip X-ray. This X-ray shows the bones in your hip and gives a good idea of the health of the joint. A hip X-ray can often show the presence of arthritis in the joint.  

On this page, we will look at:

  • What is arthritis?
  • What is an X-ray?
  • How is a hip X-ray done?
  • Does an X-ray show hip arthritis?
  • When will I get my results?

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition affecting the joints of the body. There are a number of different types of arthritis, including:

  • Osteoarthritis; the most common form of arthritis found in the hip, this breaks down the lining cartilage (known as ‘articular cartilage’) in the hip joint, causing increased pain and stiffness in the joint.
  • 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.  
An overview of hip arthritis

What is an X-ray?

An X-ray is a way of providing an image of the inside of your body. It is particularly useful for looking at bones and can help doctors to diagnose and assess a range of conditions, including arthritis.

X-rays are a form of radiation. You cannot see or feel them. During an X-ray, the radiation used is absorbed at different rates as it passes through the different parts of the body. An X-ray sensitive plate on the other side detects the amount of radiation that passes through and then converts it into an image. Dense parts of your body, such as the bones in the hip joint, show up as white on an X-ray because they allow less radiation through. Less dense parts of your body will show up as darker areas on the image.

How is a hip X-ray done?

X-rays are carried out at Circle by a diagnostic radiographer. You will usually have two X-rays taken of your hip, one from the front and one from the side. This gives your doctor a good view of the joint from different angles.

  • Front view: Known as the antero-posterior (AP) view, this is taken from the front of your hip. While only one hip may be imaged, your doctor may ask for an X-ray of the whole pelvis as this will allow them to compare the appearance and health of both hip joints and to assess the extent of any arthritis in them.

    For the X-ray, you may be asked to change into a medical gown if you are wearing clothing that may affect the quality of the image obtained, such as jeans with a zip. The radiographer will ask you to lie on a table in the imaging room and will then move the X-ray machine into the correct position above your pelvis. There is usually a light shining from the machine onto your hip to help the radiographer with the positioning for the X-ray. The radiographer may need to feel the bones at the top of your pelvis to make sure that the X-ray image will cover everything. If they need to move you at all, the table you lie on is moveable.   

    When the X-ray is taken you will not feel anything, but you may hear a small beep to show the picture has been taken. The X-rays travel through your pelvis and are detected on an X-ray sensitive plate that is in the table.
  • Side view: Also known as the lateral view, this is an X-ray of a one of your hips from the side. You will lie on your back on a table and then be asked to raise or bend the leg of the opposite side to the hip that is going to be X-rayed. If you find it hard to bend your leg, the radiographer may use some foam positioning blocks to help you maintain the best position for the X-ray.

    An X-ray sensitive plate will be placed near the outside of the hip to be X-rayed at an angle of around 45 degrees. You may be asked to hold the top of this plate to help keep it in place. The radiographer will then position the X-ray machine at the correct position, pointing it through your bent leg and towards the hip.

Does an X-ray show hip arthritis?

An X-ray of the hip (or pelvis) can show signs of arthritis. In particular, your doctor will be interested in seeing if there is a narrowing of the joint space or the formation of small bone spurs (called osteophytes), which are caused by osteoarthritis. Well-developed arthritis tends to be more easily seen on an X-ray, while new or mild arthritis may not be as obvious or clear.

If you are concerned or anxious about arthritis in your hip, it is very easy to book an appointment with one of our specialist hip doctors. Please contact the appointments team at your nearest Circle hospital and they will schedule you a consultation at a time convenient for you.

Treatment options for hip arthritis

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