Hip Conditions

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What are hip conditions?

Hip conditions include injuries, inflammatory and cancerous conditions, and age-related problems affecting any of the components of the hip joint. The hip is a ball and socket joint. The top of the thigh bone ends in a ball, which fits into a socket of the pelvis. The joint also contains ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and other soft tissues. Many muscles and groups of muscles attach to or cover the hip.

The hip joint is one of the largest joints in your body and bears your body weight. The ball and socket lets your leg move in more directions than a hinge joint like the knee. In addition to back and forth movements, the hip allows the leg to rotate. Hip problems can inhibit all of these movements, cause pain, and make it difficult to bear weight on the leg.

Common hip disorders and hip injuries include:

  • Chondrosarcoma, which is a form of hip cancer. This malignant tumor arises from the cartilage tissue on the pelvic bone.

  • Hip arthritis including osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis

  • Hip bursitis, which is inflammation and irritation of the bursae. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion ligaments, tendons and muscles. They allow these structures to glide smoothly over bones in the joint.

  • Hip dislocation, which occurs when the ball of the thighbone moves out of the socket of the joint. Because the hip is such a large joint, this usually takes a huge amount of force. Hip dislocations are medical emergencies.

  • Hip dysplasia, which occurs when the hip does not develop normally. The joint wears out over time because of this abnormality.

  • Hip fractures and breaks, which occur when the top section of the thigh bone breaks. When the socket side of the hip breaks, it is a pelvic fracture. A hip fracture is a medical emergency.

It’s important to see a doctor for any hip issues or hip trouble that persists. Your doctor can perform a thorough physical exam and may order imaging tests to help diagnose the underlying problem and determine the best type of treatment.

Seek immediate medical care (or call 911 for help) if you, or someone you are with, have severe hip pain or other symptoms of a broken or dislocated hip.

What are symptoms of hip conditions?

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of a hip issue. However, the type of pain can vary depending on the cause. Pain can be acute, chronic, dull, sharp, achy or cramping. It can feel very deep and affect the legs, groin and buttocks. The pain can also be constant or come and go. You may find that some activities aggravate the pain and rest relieves it. All of this information is important to tell your doctor. It can help narrow down the possible causes.

Other symptoms common to hip conditions include:

  • Hip stiffness and limited range of motion

  • Instability in the joint or feeling like it might give way

  • Muscle soreness, tenderness or achiness

  • Numbness, tingling, or other abnormal sensations in the leg or foot

  • Popping or locking of the joint

  • Swelling or warmth over the joint

  • Uneven leg lengths

Serious symptoms that require immediate medical care

Bone fractures and hip dislocations can lead to serious complications and require emergency treatment. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms including:

  • Abnormal rotation of the leg so the knee and foot face inward or are turned outward from the body

  • Bone sticking out through the skin

  • Deep wound or trauma with open skin

  • Difficulty or inability to rotate or flex the hip

  • Hearing a snapping or grinding sound during the injury

  • Inability to bear weight on the leg

  • Loss of feeling in the foot, ankle, or lower leg

  • Severe pain, swelling or bruising

What causes hip conditions?

Trauma to the hip is a common cause of injuries, such as fractures and dislocations. Hip injuries usually involve major forces, such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall. However, repetitive motions can constantly injure or irritate hip tissues. This leads to overuse injuries, such as hip bursitis. Arthritis and some other chronic problems can result from degenerative changes in the joint over time or from autoimmune disorders.

A shallow hip socket, particularly combined with the baby’s position in the womb, can cause infant hip dysplasia or instability of the hip, but dysplasia may not develop until after birth. Hip dysplasia itself is a risk factor for osteoarthritis of the hip later in life.  

What are the risk factors for hip conditions?

The risk factors for developing a hip condition depend on the underlying cause. Being elderly, especially for women, increases the risk of hip problems and injuries. Older women are more likely to have osteoporosis, which makes the bones thin and more prone to breaking. Cancer can also weaken the thigh bone. People with a family history of hip disorders have a higher risk of hip problems.

Stress or overuse injuries are more common with repetitive activities, such as running, biking, and stair climbing.

Reducing your risk of hip conditions

You may be able to lower your risk of hip conditions by:

  • Balancing strength training with stretching and flexibility exercises

  • Cross-training with a variety of activities

  • Following your treatment or prevention plan for osteoporosis and other chronic conditions

  • Strengthening the muscles that support your hip joint

  • Strengthening your bones with weight-bearing exercise and plenty of calcium and vitamin D

  • Taking care to avoid falls

How are hip conditions treated?

Your treatment for a hip condition will depend on your specific problem and its cause. In general, treatment goals include correcting any physical problems with the hip, relieving symptoms, and improving your quality of life. Many hip problems respond to nonsurgical treatments, including rest, modifying activities, and using anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical therapy can also help resolve hip problems. It can aid in relieving pain and restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion. Sometimes, hip surgery is necessary, such as hip replacement for severe joint damage.

What are the potential complications of hip conditions?

For hip injuries, most people successfully recover without any issues. However, it is possible for injuries to heal incompletely or improperly. This can cause complications including persistent pain, weakness and instability. These complications are more likely with severe or complex hip injuries. Physical therapy can help prevent complications and future injuries. A physical therapist can teach you how to strengthen and protect your hip joint.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 25
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  12. Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1248135-overview#a8
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