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Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Osteoarthritis of the hip causes the hip joint to get stiff and inflamed and can progress until resting no longer relieves your pain. Bone spurs might build up at the edges of the joint. When the cartilage wears away completely, bones rub directly against each other, making it very painful to move. You may lose the ability to rotate, flex or extend your hip. If you become less active to avoid the pain, the muscles controlling your joint get weak and you may start to limp.

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Osteoarthritis, resulting from the wear and tear of your body as you age, affects more than 20 million people in the United States. The pressure of gravity on your joints and surrounding tissues causes physical damage, leading to pain, tenderness, swelling and decreased function. The smooth and glistening covering on the ends of your bones, called articular cartilage, which help your joints glide, may wear thin. Initially, osteoarthritis is not painful and its onset is subtle and gradual, usually involving one or only a few joints. The joints most often affected are the knee, hip and hand. In some instances, joint replacement (arthroplasty) of the hip or knee may be recommended to treat osteoarthritis.

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Your first sign may be a bit of discomfort and stiffness in your groin, buttock, or thigh when you wake up in the morning. The pain flares when you are active and gets better when you rest. If you do not get treatment for osteoarthritis of the hip, the condition keeps getting worse until resting no longer relieves your pain. The hip joint gets stiff and inflamed. Bone spurs might build up at the edges of the joint. When the cartilage wears away completely, bones rub directly against each other. This makes it very painful for you to move. You may lose the ability to rotate, flex or extend your hip. If you become less active to avoid the pain the muscles controlling your joint get weak, and you may start to limp.

Your doctor will determine how much the disease has progressed. Describe your symptoms and when they began. Your doctor may rotate, flex and extend your hips to check for pain. He or she may want you to walk or stand on one leg to see how your hips line up. Both hips will probably be X-rayed to check if hip joint space has changed, and if you have developed bone spurs or other abnormalities.

While you can't reverse the effects of osteoarthritis, early treatment may help you avoid pain and disability and slow progression of the disease. Surgery may help if your condition is already severe. If you have early stages of osteoarthritis of the hip, the first treatments may include:

  • Resting your hip from overuse
  • Following a physical therapy program of gentle, regular exercise like swimming, water aerobics or cycling to keep your joint functioning and improve its strength and range of motion
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen for pain
  • Getting enough sleep each night

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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Orthopedics

Arthritis & Joint Replacement Center
1500 Owens St.
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353–2808
Fax: (415) 885–3862
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