Hip osteoarthritis – causes, diagnosis and treatment

Last modified: September 11, 2019

Overview of osteoarthritis in the hip joint

When you have hip osteoarthritis (latin: coxarthrosis), the cartilage inside the hip joint has broken down causing pain and stiffness, mainly from stress. To reduce your symptoms, you can strengthen the muscles around the hips increasing stability and at the same time encouraging the cartilage to repair itself. You can do this by attending osteoarthritis classes, either via your local health center or digitally via Joint Academy.

Signs of hip osteoarthritis

The first symptom is usually that your hip feels stiff, which makes it difficult to get yourself up. It mainly tends to be difficult to rotate your leg outward. After that, it is common to have pain in your hip, mainly as a result of strain. Over time you may even feel that pain when you are not moving. Another sign of osteoarthritis in the hip is fatigue or depression. This is because chronic pain takes a great deal of energy out of the body and, over time, may lead to despondency and depression.

●     Pain in the hip joint in the groin, which sometimes radiates towards the buttocks and down to the thigh.

●     Stiffness and pain when you move after resting

●     Pain and tenderness appear when resting, e.g. at night or after physical activity.

●     Abnormal fatigue and depression

●      If you experience any of these symptoms you should visit a doctor or physiotherapist. Read more under “Diagnosing osteoarthritis in the hip” below.

Causes of osteoarthritis in the hip joint

Just as in osteoarthritis in other joints, there is not just one reason for the development of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis in the hip develops when the joint cartilage wears down faster than the body can repair it. The result is that the articular cartilage becomes thin and is less effective as a shock absorber of the joint. Just as in osteoarthritis in other joints, osteoarthritis in the hip joint develops as a result of excessive strain on the joints. As a result, osteoarthritis can arise as a result of long-term overweight, weak muscles or working in a position that causes a negative strain on the joint. Too much negative strain over a long period causes the cartilage in the joints to break down slowly, which then causes pain and reduced mobility in the hip. Congenital developments, known as dysplasia, may also lead to osteoarthritis of the hip joint.

Diagnosing osteoarthritis in the hip

Traditionally, osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed using an X-ray and it is still a widespread belief that it should be diagnosed this way. But, according to the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden’s guidelines and international research, osteoarthritis should be seen as a clinical diagnosis. This means that diagnosis should be determined by looking at the medical history, joint function and pain levels. It involves assessing how much pain the person has, whether the pain affects daily life or other activities and how stable the joints are.

It is also common to look at the various risk factors for osteoarthritis of the hip and to keep them in mind when making the diagnosis. In fact, there are several things that have an impact on whether, when and how quickly osteoarthritis develops. Some of them can be influenced and some are simply to do with heredity or how the body is formed. The common aspect for most risk factors is that in some way they increase the strain on the cartilage.

If you suspect that you have osteoarthritis in your hip and want to have a diagnosis of your hip pain, you can either contact your primary care center or download the Joint Academy app to book a consultation with a physical therapist directly.

Treating osteoarthritis in the hip joint

Osteoarthritis in the hip joint is mainly treated using physical exercises which are adapted to people with osteoarthritis in the hip. These exercises should be coordinated by a physical therapist. In addition to the physical exercises, all osteoarthritis treatment also includes education about the disease and recommendations about the possible effects of general lifestyle changes.

Treatment is currently offered in osteoarthritis classes around the country but also digitally through Joint Academy. The digital osteoarthritis classes offer a complete treatment program that includes contact and continuous follow-up with a personal physical therapist. If you think that the exercises are too difficult or too easy for you, they are immediately adapted the next time.

Osteoarthritis pain often flares up, i.e. there are different periods of deterioration when the affected joint is actively inflamed. On these types of occasions, it may help to take medicine in addition to the fundamental treatment (which consists of exercises). Many non-prescription medicines containing, for example, paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen can help, but you should always discuss this with the attending clinician to prevent other diseases or medication interactions with the new treatment.

Other treatment methods for osteoarthritis in the hip

Traditionally, cortisone injections have been used for severe osteoarthritis. For osteoarthritis in the hip, it is technically difficult to inject cortisone and it should therefore only be administered by experienced orthopedic specialists. Cortisone is always a temporary and limited treatment for pronounced symptoms and may damage the joint.

In the few cases where exercise and education is not sufficient as treatment, a prosthesis operation with an artificial joint may be appropriate. The reason for the operation should not be seen as the only or the first type of treatment for osteoarthritis in the hip joint, despite the fact that it provides good results for many people, the operation is not completely risk-free, for example with a risk of blood clots and infections.

Continue reading about knee osteoarthritis.