The beauty of age is that we grow and have more wisdom. Even Hollywood actor Brad Pitt once famously said that he personally likes ageing and that “With age comes wisdom. I have said it before and I say it again, I will take wisdom over youth any day”.
Could life be fair after all? Perhaps it equips us with wisdom and grace to handle the aches and pains of ageing, and one of the most common pains that comes with age is osteoarthritis of the hips, which we will discuss in this article.
What is osteoarthritis?
To first understand what osteoarthritis of the hips is, let us first define what osteoarthritis is.
The word “osteo” comes from the Greek word osteon, which means “bone”. In medical terms, the prefix “osteo” often means that it pertains to the bone. Arthritis basically means the swelling and tenderness of the joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which is often known as “wear and tear arthritis”. This happens when the cartilage, which acts as a smooth cushion between the bones, breaks down. When this happens, the joints can feel painful and swollen, and they will be difficult to move.
The most commonly affected joints include the hands (usually along the knuckles), knees, hips, neck and lower back.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of chronic (long-lasting) joint condition.
What is osteoarthritis of the hips?
An estimated 27 million Americans are affected by osteoarthritis. The chance of developing osteoarthritis increases with age. It can also occur in any joint in the body, but it most often develops in weight-bearing joints such as the hips.
Hip osteoarthritis (or degenerative arthritis of the hip) happens when the cartilage that cushions the joints wears away. This causes friction, inflammation and damage to the bones. As a result, sufferers of hip osteoarthritis often experience pain and stiffness.
What causes osteoarthritis of the hips?
Most information will state that, as a whole, osteoarthritis in any joint, including the hips, is caused by wear and tear. However, joints do not simply incur wear and tear. There are certain things that play a factor in one’s likelihood to develop hip osteoarthritis, such as:
- History of injury, surgery or condition on the hip joints.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Repeated movements in the hip joint, causing them to be overused.
- Family history of hip osteoarthritis or osteoarthritis in general.
Who is likely to get hip osteoarthritis?
While osteoarthritis is more common in people aged 60 and older, anyone can get osteoarthritis. Younger people can develop it, too, usually due to a hip joint injury or a congenital joint formation.
Women are more prone to get hip osteoarthritis due to biomechanics. It is thought that the unique functions of women’s joints play a role in their arthritis development. Physiologically, women tend to have wider hips, which medical experts believe can cause extra stress on the joints, including the hips themselves, and knees.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip?
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the hip joint wears away over time. As it gradually wears away, the cartilage becomes frayed, decreasing the protective joint space between the bones. This results in bone rubbing against bone, and this is why hip osteoarthritis develops slowly and the pain worsens over time. In some cases, the damaged bones may start to grow outward and form osteophytes, or bone spurs.
If you have any of the following symptoms, it is best to consult your doctor:
- Stiffness in hip joints when you get out of bed.
- Hip joint stiffness after sitting for a long period of time.
- Any type of pain, swelling or tenderness in the hip joint.
- A sound or feeling of “crunching” of bone against bone.
- Inability or difficulty to move the hip in certain motions or activities, such as putting on trousers or socks.
- Loss of flexibility in hips.
- Pain and swelling in hip joints.
How is hip osteoarthritis diagnosed?
When you decide to seek consultation from your doctor, they will likely discuss with you your symptoms and medical history. They may also conduct a physical examination with diagnostic tests and x-rays.
These are normally what your GP or doctor will look for during a physical examination:
- Hip tenderness.
- Pain when pressure is placed on the hip.
- Issues with your gait or how you walk.
- A grating sensation in the joint that comes with movement (crepitus).
- Range of assisted (passive) and self-directed (active) motion
They will also look for any signs of injury to the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding your hip.
Treatment for osteoarthritis of the hip
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis of the hip, there are treatments that aim to manage the pain and improve mobility in order to decrease pain and discomfort. Your doctor will decide on the best treatment option for you depending on your overall health, severity of the joint damage, severity of symptoms and other individual factors.
If one has a high BMI (Body Mass Index), they have a higher risk for hip osteoarthritis. The additional weight puts extra strain on the joints. For those who are overweight and have no other severe medical complications, medical experts strongly recommend losing weight. Dietary changes and an exercise program is necessary for this kind of treatment.
For those with mild symptoms, oral NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may help manage pain and inflammation. Samples of these include ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen. For those with moderate to severe type of hip osteoarthritis, prescription pain relief might be necessary such as duloxetine or tramadol.
In general, medical experts do not recommend becoming too dependent on medication as treatment of hip osteoarthritis.
For severe pain in hip osteoarthritis, doctors may prescribe steroid injections. Steroids can be used in pain management by reducing inflammation. Take note, however, that this is only temporary pain relief. Long-term use of steroids may lead to negative side effects.
Exercise and physical therapy
Physical exercise is still needed in order to strengthen the muscles around joints to provide support. Low-impact movement and exercises are less likely to strain damaged joints. Tai Chi, an internal Chinese martial art known for its health benefits, is recommended by doctors for hip osteoarthritis treatment.
Other exercises include yoga, swimming, walking and other strengthening exercises.
In very extreme cases, and if all the non-invasive treatments above do not apply for you or no longer work, your doctor may recommend surgery to reduce pain and increase your mobility.
The two types of surgery options for hip osteoarthritis are:
Hip resurfacing – This is when the damaged bone and cartilage are trimmed off, and the surgeon caps the area with a metal shell.
Total hip replacement – This is when the socket and head of the femur is replaced completely by an artificial joint.
While osteoarthritis of the hip may seem inevitable and have no direct cure, it’s comforting to know that there are many treatment options available so you can still live an active, comfortable life while managing pain effectively.
Are you feeling symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hips? Have you had previous experience with it? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us for a chat!