When is a hip replacement needed?

If you’ve been suffering from persistent hip pain, you may be wondering whether a hip replacement is right for you. Tom Pollard, an expert hip surgeon at Circle Reading Hospital, talks you through what you need to know.

Why your hip anatomy matters

Your hip is essentially a ball and socket joint. A ball (femoral head) is at the top of the femur (thigh bone). There is cartilage covering the whole surface of the ball and the socket, acting much like a shock absorber for the joint.

When you have arthritis in your hip, it means this cartilage has worn away. Cartilage tends to wear away at the front of the hip, which then spreads to the rest of the joint. Eventually you end up with bones rubbing together on both sides of the joint, which is extremely painful.

Hip osteoarthritis is very common in the UK, and is often used interchangeably with degenerative arthritis. It’s a condition that develops over time that causes your joints to become stiff and painful, a factor leading many people to need a hip replacement longer term.

What does hip arthritis feel like?

The three main symptoms of hip osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness and shortening of the leg.

Pain is the most common symptom. It’s often intrusive, affecting you while you sit, walk or sleep during the night. Typical hip arthritis pain will often be a dull ache, much like a persistent tooth ache. You may also feel some sharper pain, which is usually linked to a mechanical issue in your hip.

The hip joint actually lies within the groin, making this a very common location to feel discomfort. The pain can also be in the buttock, thigh or knee. You can even occasionally just have knee pain, even though it’s your hip that’s the source of the problem.

Why does hip osteoarthritis develop?

The source of the problem is likely to be a combination of hip shape, what activities you do, and what genetic factors there are.

Quite often it’s actually naturally occurring variations (or deformities) that cause hip osteoarthritis. In fact, around 90% of the time it’s these small deformities, which cause the need for a hip replacement.

Your hip shape is a more important factor than age, as many people never develop any hip issues in their lifetime. If you have a hip socket that is very shallow, it’s like having a saucer rather than a socket. The ball head is always trying to escape out. Alternatively, if you have a deep socket, it’s like having a lobster claw around the femoral head which is pinching it to stop it moving properly.

Family history is also very important. If they’ve had arthritis, you’re three times more likely to have it yourself and six times more likely for it to be symptomatic.

So do you need a hip replacement?

The average age for having a hip replacement in the UK is 67. That said, there’s no rule on when someone needs surgery.

If pain and stiffness are stopping you doing your everyday activities, and you’ve tried other conservative measures, then a hip replacement may be the only thing left to get you out of pain and improve your quality of life.  

Having a hip replacement is considered to be a reliable and predictable procedure. Of course, like with any surgery, there are potential risks and complications, but the expectation is that it will enable you to get back to doing the activities you love.

The initial consultation is an ideal place to talk through the history of your symptoms, review any scans and reach a diagnosis. I’ll then answer any questions you have and talk you through the treatment options, including any non-operative options that would suit you. You can then decide what’s best for you so I can support you during your recovery.

It’s quick and easy to book a consultation

Whether you’re paying for your own treatment or using private medical insurance, we can book you in within days to see a hip specialist at Circle Reading Hospital.

Call us on: 01189226888

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020 3613 6779

Circle Health, 32 Welbeck St, Marylebone, London W1G 8EU