Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that affects the cartilage of joints. Cartilage is a firm, flexible connective tissue that lines the surface of many joints and provides shock absorption and cushioning for the bony surfaces of those joints as they move. During the process of OA, cartilage gradually begins to break down and is worn away. This means that the bony surfaces below the cartilage start to rub together, creating increased stress and friction. The body reacts to this increased stress by creating small bony deposits around the joint, as more of these are created the joint becomes increasingly painful and difficult to move.
The hip is one the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. While OA is generally considered to be a disease associated with aging, younger people can be affected, particularly following trauma to the hip. As a general rule, however, the cartilage in our bodies loses elasticity as we age, making it more susceptible to damage. Other risk factors for the development of OA are a family history of OA, previous traumatic injury of the hip, obesity, improper formation of the hip at birth (developmental dysplasia), genetic defects of the cartilage, impingement of the hip (femoroacetabular impingement) and a history of intense weight bearing activities.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The most common symptoms of hip OA are pain and stiffness with reduced movement of the hip, particularly in the direction of internal rotation. These symptoms in a person over the age of 50, in the absence of a trauma that may have caused a fracture, indicate possible OA. Pain originating from the hip joint can be felt as a deep ache that can be noticed in the groin, buttocks, thigh or even knee. It is also typical for sufferers of OA to experience stiffness in the morning upon waking that lasts less than 30-60 minutes. Grating or cracking sensations with hip movements are also common complaints, along with mild to moderate joint swelling.
In the early stages, mild pain may be felt with activities such as walking or running. As the disease progresses these activities will become more painful with the muscles that provide additional support to the joint becoming weaker, exacerbating the disease process. For many people, a total hip replacement may be necessary to reduce pain and restore function.
How can physiotherapy help?
For mild to moderate cases of OA, physiotherapy can help to reduce pain and maintain function for as long as possible. Keep the musculature around the hip as strong and healthy as possible can have a significant impact on your quality of life and your physiotherapist work with you to help you to set and reach your goals for treatment.
Treatment will also include stretching, trigger point therapy, joint mobilization to increase the joint’s mobility, and a personalised exercise program, including hydrotherapy and isometric exercises that work to increase muscle strength while putting less pressure on the joint.
For those whose best course of treatment is surgical joint replacement, physiotherapy can help to achieve great outcomes by helping with effective preparation and rehabilitation, getting you on your way to recovery as quickly as possible.
None of the information in this newsletter is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your individual condition.