Many of us are familiar with treatment regimens for knee and hand arthritis. But when it comes to arthritis in the hip, it seems like all you can do is wait out the pain until it’s time for a total hip replacement. Well, times have changed — and for the better.
While there’s technically no cure for hip osteoarthritis, you have a plethora of treatment options available to you. These treatments help ease the pain of the joint disease and improve the function of the joint so you can live a more functional life.
Below, we discuss what causes osteoarthritis in the hip and why that informs which treatments — both surgical and non-surgical — are best to treat your joint.
What Causes Osteoarthritis in the Hip?
In general, osteoarthritis (OA) is the degradation of the cartilage in your joints. Even today, modern medicine doesn’t know exactly what prompts this disease to occur, but experts postulate it’s some combination of wear and tear over the years with factors like your injury history, age, sex, genetics, or a growth abnormality.
While osteoarthritis can occur in just about any joint, it most commonly affects the ankles, knees, and hips — all weight-bearing joints. These parts of your body carry most of your weight when standing or in motion, and they absorb the shock of running or jumping. Hence, your body weight is known to be a significant risk factor in the development of OA.
Initial symptoms begin with morning stiffness that lasts less than an hour and a bit of discomfort. Over time, the disease progresses into increased inflammation and pain, as well as a cracking sound or grinding feeling in the joint itself. OA is also an asymmetrical disease, meaning it doesn’t typically affect both hip joints or knee joints at the same time or on the same side of the body.
Common Non-Surgical Treatments for Hip Arthritis
Although your knees and hips are two of the body’s largest weight-bearing joints, treating osteoarthritis in those areas can be quite different.
- Located deep within the body, the hip joint is surrounded by lots of muscle that helps support the joint.
- In contrast, the knees have less muscle surrounding them and are a completely different type of joint.
- Knees are easier to access and have shown significant improvement with the use of corticosteroid injections or viscosupplementation.
- Both injections can be performed on the hip joint as well if the patient chooses.
Currently, the most common non-surgical approach for treating hip arthritis consists of the following:
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy
- Low-impact exercises
- Proper footwear and mobility aids
- Hot and cold treatments
It’s important you understand all your options before pursuing any course of action.
As we discussed above, body weight plays a significant role in the development of OA. Being 10 pounds overweight can add an extra 15 to 30 pounds of pressure on just your knee joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation. People with obesity have proven to be at an increased risk for the onset of OA. Moreover, once you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, excess weight can accelerate the progression of cartilage erosion and increase the need for a hip replacement.
While you can certainly seek out surgical and medication-based solutions to your weight status, you have other options. Losing weight has a lot to do with diet and exercise, and both are non-medical ways to address excess fat. For more information on how weight affects your arthritis, visit our article, “How Body Weight Affects Osteoarthritis.”
However, before changing your diet and exercise regimen, you should always consult your doctor or arthritis specialist to ensure the changes you make will be beneficial.
This is where hip OA deviates from other OA treatments. The hip joint is surrounded by lots of muscles to help it perform properly. Hence, strengthening these muscles is critical for good joint function and overall health.
Physical therapy helps the muscles surrounding and supporting the joint by reducing the joint load, improving symptoms and reducing pain. These include:
- Gluteal Muscles: The muscles in your buttocks help support the back of the hip.
- The Adductor Muscles: The muscles in your inner thigh stabilize our bodies when standing.
- Quadriceps: The muscles in your front thigh are vital for walking, standing, and other physical activity.
- Hamstrings: These muscles in the back of your thigh go all the way down to the knee and help bend the knees and extend the hips.
- Iliopsoas Muscle: The muscles in your lower back and inner hip are important for standing and walking.
Similar to physical therapy, getting your joints moving with exercise is an excellent way to reduce your joint pain. However, because the hip is a weight-bearing joint, you should avoid activities that put a lot of stress on your joints, such as running, jumping rope or jogging. Even golf should be avoided, as it requires you to twist your hips.
Focus on low-impact exercises that get your body moving without adding further stress to your hip, knees or ankles. A few of our favorite low-impact options include:
- Water aerobics
- Tai Chi
- Resistance training
To learn more about low-impact exercises, visit our article, “What Exercises Can I Do to Help My Arthritis?”
Proper Footwear and Mobility Aids
Sometimes, you just need a little more support to get through the day. That’s the function of mobility aids and arthritis-friendly footwear, such as canes, crutches, walkers and walking shoes. All are meant to:
- Reduce joint pain
- Improve stability
- Absorb shock
NSAIDs stand for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs are not only pain relievers — these medicines can help lower inflammation, prevent blood clotting (aspirin) and lower fever. There are many NSAIDs available, but the most common you can find over the counter include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
Hot and Cold Treatments
Also known as temperature therapy, hot and cold treatments help relieve pain and address any actively aggravated symptoms:
- If you’re experiencing swelling and pain, a cold treatment with an ice pack might be the best option.
- If you’re experiencing stiff joints and tired muscles, then a warm bath or a heated blanket might help alleviate those symptoms.
We recommend rotating through these options and experimenting with others to determine the one that works best for your symptoms.
Surgical Treatments for Hip Arthritis
Eventually, your doctor may recommend surgery as the best treatment path if you can’t find relief for your symptoms or if the disease has caused you to become disabled. The three options a doctor may explore with you include:
- Hip resurfacing: A type of surgery that doesn’t replace your entire hip. It caps the “ball” part with a smooth covering and replaces the “socket” with another smooth material.
- Total hip replacement: The difference between a total hip replacement and a hip resurfacing is the “ball” part. In a total replacement, the surgeon removes the whole ball and replaces it with a prosthetic.
Osteotomy: This surgery is rare and is most commonly used in treating hip dysplasia. It involves realigning the ball and socket parts of the joint.
Don’t Let Hip OA Control Your Life
While you shouldn’t let the idea of total hip replacement scare you, you have several non-surgical treatment options you can try before you enter any operating room. You are in control of your treatment path — not your disease.