Osteoarthritis is a condition which affects a high percentage of the population, with the incidence typically increasing with increased age. Repetitive stress, obesity, genetics, certain co-morbidities (for example, diabetes), and previous injuries can make people more prone to developing osteoarthrits. This process occurs when the cartilage cushion on the end of a joint wears down, reducing the bone’s protection during weight-bearing and movement. Over time, this can result is discomfort, as the outer surface of the bone is rich with nerve endings and blood vessels versus the non-innervated cartilage that once protected the bone from this abrasive contact. Osteoarthritis can occur within any joint in the body and, with the lower extremity, is most typically observed in the knees and hips.

Early signs of hip arthritic changes include a general reduction in hip flexibility. One way to detect these changes could be difficulty moving your hip in the “figure 4” bent knee position while relaxing your leg to the floor. You may also notice it is more difficult drawing your thigh towards your chest or the opposite shoulder. Initially, this range of motion loss may be the first symptom of arthritic change, associated with no pain during all functional activities. Limitations in hip range of motion causes more stress to occur within the hip joint, since now a smaller portion of the ‘ball and socket’ joint is bearing load, leading to overuse and continued breakdown. This range of motion loss can also affect other areas of the body, as they try to compensate for the lack of movement at the hip to maintain function, becoming overstressed and eventually painful. The other areas of the body (i.e. the low back, sacroiliac joint, knee, or foot/ankle) may be the first areas to experience pain when the primary problem is early arthritic change to the hip. Typically, hip pain secondary to arthritic change results after as much as 70% of the articular cartilage is already gone. This is important to take into account, as the hip joint will not be able to return to its previous healthy state and continued breakdown will occur if several factors are not addressed.

A physical therapist can help determine if your symptoms are related to osteoarthritis and then develop a home exercise program that is tailored to your specific needs. Physical therapists at Life’s Work PT strive to empower clients with the education necessary to manage hip osteoarthritic symptoms over time and how to limit future breakdown from occurring. Along with the educational component, they are highly trained in the ability to apply manual therapy to improve joint movement and also assist with re-learning the proper performance of daily activities, while prescribing exercises that target key musculature to help improve hip stability. All of these components help to lessen the load through the hip joint, thereby reducing symptoms and risk of more severe breakdown.

If you are suffering from hip pain or are noticing increasing hip stiffness that limits your ability to function in any way, please contact a physical therapist, as you will be reducing your risk of unnecessary further breakdown and will be one step closer to reaching a more comfortable tomorrow.