What Is Osteoarthritis?
Arthritis means "joint inflammation." It causes pain and swelling in the body's joints, such as the knees or hips. There are many types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common. Also known as degenerative joint disease or age-related arthritis, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop as people get older.
Osteoarthritis occurs when inflammation and injury to a joint cause a breaking down of cartilage tissue. In turn, that breakdown causes pain, swelling, and deformity. Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints. It is primarily made up of water and proteins. The primary function of cartilage is to reduce friction in the joints and serve as a "shock absorber." The shock-absorbing quality of normal cartilage comes from its ability to change shape when compressed. It can do this because of its high water content. Although cartilage may undergo some repair when damaged, the body does not grow new cartilage after it is injured.
The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over many years. There are, though, occasional exceptions.
The two main types of osteoarthritis are:
- Primary: More generalized osteoarthritis that affects the fingers, thumbs, spine, hips, and knees
- Secondary: Osteoarthritis that occurs after injury or inflammation in a joint, or as a result of another condition that may affect the composition of the cartilage, such as hemochromatosis
How Does Osteoarthritis Affect the Hip Joint?
Patients who have osteoarthritis of the hip sometimes have problems walking. Diagnosis can be difficult at first. That's because pain can appear in different locations, including the groin, thigh, buttocks, or knee. The pain can be stabbing and sharp or it can be a dull ache, and the hip is often stiff.
What Causes Osteoarthritis of the Hip Joint?
The causes of osteoarthritis of the hip are not known. Factors that may contribute include joint injury, increasing age, and being overweight.
In addition, osteoarthritis can sometimes be caused by other factors:
- The joints may not have formed properly.
- There may be genetic (inherited) defects in the cartilage.
- The person may be putting extra stress on their joints, either by being overweight or through activities that involve the hip.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Hip?
If you have any of the following symptoms of hip osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor:
- Joint stiffness that occurs as you are getting out of bed
- Joint stiffness after you sit for a long time
- Any pain, swelling, or tenderness in the hip joint
- A sound or feeling ("crunching") of bone rubbing against bone
- Inability to move the hip to perform routine activities such as putting on your socks
How Is Osteoarthritis of the Hip Diagnosed?
There is no single test for diagnosing osteoarthritis, but often it is diagnosed by an abnormal X-ray that shows characteristic features such as narrowing of the joint and spurring of the joint margins. Your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical examination. This will include a check of how your hip is functioning and may uncover loss of motion.
How Is Osteoarthritis of the Hip Treated?
The main goal of treating osteoarthritis of the hip is to improve the person's mobility (ability to get around) and lifestyle. Part of this goal involves improving the function of the hip and controlling pain. Treatment plans can involve:
- Rest and joint care
- Use of a cane to take weight off the affected hip
- Nondrug pain relief techniques to control pain
- Losing excess weight
- Medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil), or a prescription pain medication
- Complementary and alternative therapies
What Is Hip Replacement Surgery?
The hip joint is a ball-and-socket mechanism. The ball is located at the top of the thigh bone (femur). Total hip replacement surgery replaces the damaged ball with a metal ball. The hip socket is resurfaced using a metal shell and a plastic liner.
What Is Hip Resurfacing?
Hip resurfacing is a surgical option that can provide relief while delaying hip replacement surgery. In hip resurfacing, the diseased hip joint surfaces are removed surgically and substituted with metal. However, the entire femur bone is preserved. That makes future hip replacement surgeries possible. Rather than removing the ball of the hip socket, the surgeon covers it with a metal cap.
How Can Osteoarthritis of the Hip Be Prevented?
One method for preventing osteoarthritis of the hip is to maintain a healthy weight.
In addition, you should exercise. Exercise strengthens muscles around joints. Such strengthening can help prevent wear and tear on cartilage in a joint. Your health care provider may be able to offer additional suggestions to minimize your risk for hip osteoarthritis.