Osteoarthritis of the Hip
What is Osteoarthritis of the hip?
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball, (femoral head) is at the top of the thigh bone and meets with the socket of the pelvis. Its primary functions are to support the weight of the body and enable the legs to move in a multidirectional way.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip is a common condition. It affects men and women of all ages, but is more common in people over 60 years of age. The cartilage lining the joint (which normally cushions the bones in the hip joint) becomes damaged and worn. This inhibits the smooth movement of the joint and causes severe pain.
The chances of it developing increase with age. There are multiple known causes of OA but usually it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors (a tendency to develop it ie. family history, combined with external factors such as injury.)
How will it affect me?
The primary symptom is pain. This can be felt in the groin, thigh, buttock, lateral aspect of the hip (outside part), or the knee. Stiffness and reduced range of movement are common. There can be periods of either days or weeks when your symptoms are more severe.
You may suffer with disturbed sleep, have problems walking, have difficulty putting shoes and socks on due to stiffness, and suffer with unsteadiness or falls. Your hip may “give way” or feel like it is locking. Very commonly, muscles around the joint can waste due to lack of use leading to muscle weakness.
What is the treatment?
Once your GP has diagnosed OA of the hip, they may prescribe medication. Painkillers will not affect the arthritis itself but should help relieve the pain and stiffness. You may be given painkillers like paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. It is important to take NSAIDs with food, and not on an empty stomach. While many people have no problems, NSAIDs can cause indigestion and sometimes stomach bleeding, so you may need to be prescribed stomach medication at the same time. It is important to take your painkillers as prescribed by your GP to ensure they work effectively. If you are worried about the side effects of any of your medication speak to your doctor. If you can’t tolerate NSAIDs or the pain is more severe, your GP may prescribe codeine, which is often taken in combination with NSAIDs or paracetamol.
If painkillers are not effective, depending on your symptoms, you should be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon with an interest in hips for a consultation.
It may be appropriate for you to undergo an injection into the hip joint. This is a day case procedure and is done under a local anaesthetic. It often gives good pain relief and also serves as a diagnostic test if there is doubt about the origin of your pain. It is not a permanent solution however, and your pain will usually return.
If your hip OA is severe it may be appropriate to undergo a total hip replacement. This offers a permanent solution to your hip pain. Please see the section on total hip replacement for more information.
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