Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that can affect any joint in your body, including your hips. Over time, due to aging, trauma or other factors, the cartilage that cushions your joints starts to break down. Without cartilage, your joint bones rub together when you move. The bone-on-bone action creates pain, stiffness, and can limit your mobility. This is especially true with OA of the hip, as the hip contains large joints that carry your body’s weight with each step you take. Treatment options for hip arthritis range from lifestyle modifications to pain management, exercise programs, and even surgery.
The earliest symptom of hip OA is stiffness in your hips, groin, thighs, and buttocks. You’re likely to feel stiff upon waking in the morning or if you’ve been sitting for a long period of time. A dull ache or sharp pain may bother you more when you’re active, and then go away when you’re resting. Other symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip can include a grating or cracking sensation when you move the joint, tenderness around the joint, and swelling.
Your doctor will diagnose hip arthritis through a combination of a medical history and performing some tests. A medical history represents a question and answer session between you and your healthcare provider, where you describe how you feel and when you have symptoms. A medical examination can include gentle palpitation of the joint so your doctor can feel if the hip is swollen, and X-rays to see if your joints are losing cartilage. You might be asked to walk to help your healthcare provider assess if your range of motion is limited.
Pain management is among the first-line treatment methods for hip arthritis. For those with mild symptoms, over-the-counter strength ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen may be enough to control the pain. People with moderate-to-severe OA of the hip may require more help in the form of prescription pain relievers. Injected corticosteroid drugs are a more potent solution for severe hip pain that does not go away with oral medications. This type of medication is injected directly into the hip joint and reduces both pain and swelling around the joint.
Your lifestyle could contribute to hip arthritis, particularly if your occupation requires a lot of physical labor. Lifestyle changes such as the following, in tandem with medical treatment, can help calm symptoms:
- rest: Eliminate or reduce activities that exacerbate symptoms, especially during a flare-up.
- weight loss (if needed): Excess weight puts more pressure on your hips and knees.
- diet: Research shows that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the signs of arthritis in cartilage. Fill your plate with other healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- compresses: Apply heat to a stiff hip joint or cold to swollen areas.
Hip stretches can be beneficial to people with hip arthritis. Many people with OA find that moving their stiff, achy joints is difficult. Stretching on a regular basis keeps you flexible and helps your hips move more smoothly. Yoga, which involves a lot of stretching, can be a great way to both stretch and reduce stress at the same time. All stretches should be done gently—be sure to stop if you feel pain. You should also be sure to consult with your healthcare provider about any stretches and exercises you may want to do. A few possible stretches include:
- knee pull: Lie on your back and pull your bent knee up toward your chest until you feel a stretch.
- sitting stretch: Sit with the soles of your feet touching each other and your knees apart. Your legs will form a diamond shape. Slowly push your feet up toward your groin to stretch your hips.
- extended leg balance: This is the same exercise as the knee pull, but from a standing position.
Exercise is a great way to stay active and healthy, even when you have hip arthritis. Rest is a main consideration when you’re having a flare-up of OA symptoms. Talk with your healthcare provider about finding a way to fit exercise into your daily routine. Activities like bicycling and swimming are easy on your joints and can be great for people with OA of the hip.
Surgery is an option for people with arthritis that doesn’t respond to more conventional, minimally invasive treatments. The majority of people who have hip surgery are those who have extreme pain even when at rest, or whose hips become deformed from the degenerative disease. For these people, a hip replacement can help them regain their mobility without a lifetime of pain.
Hip arthritis can put a damper on your life if you let it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t let the pain and joint stiffness get so bad that it makes you miserable. Speak to your doctor early on, so you can put a treatment plan in place. Osteoarthritis has no cure, but there are plenty of effective treatments to help you manage your chronic condition.