Hip osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative joint disease, is characterised by the progressive breakdown of cartilage within the hip joint. It’s one of the most common forms of arthritis, affecting a significant portion of the population, particularly the elderly. This condition results from the wear and tear of the cartilage, which serves as a cushion and allows for smooth movement of the hip joint. As the cartilage deteriorates, bones may begin to rub against each other, causing pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.

What Are the Causes of Hip Osteoarthritis?

The development of hip OA is influenced by various factors. Understanding these factors can help in identifying at-risk people and in implementing preventive measures. The primary causes include:

  • Age-related Changes: The wear and tear of the cartilage in the hip joint is a natural part of ageing. Over time, this can lead to the development of OA.
  • Genetic Factors: There is a hereditary aspect to OA, with a higher risk observed in people with a family history of the condition.
  • Obesity and Weight-related Stress: Excess body weight stresses the hip joints, accelerating cartilage deterioration and increasing the risk of OA.
  • Previous Hip Injuries: Hip injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, can damage the cartilage or alter joint mechanics, leading to an increased likelihood of developing OA.
  • Occupational and Lifestyle Factors: Jobs or activities involving repetitive stress on the hip joint, like heavy lifting or certain sports, can predispose people to hip OA.
  • Other Joint Diseases: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or hip dysplasia can increase the risk of secondary osteoarthritis in the hip.

Identifying Symptoms

Recognising the symptoms of hip OA is key to early diagnosis and management. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Pain is often the first symptom of hip OA. Initially, pain may occur during or after physical activity but can become more constant over time. The pain might be felt in the groin, thigh, or buttocks.
  • Stiffness: People may experience stiffness in the hip, especially in the morning or after sitting for prolonged periods. This stiffness usually eases with movement.
  • Reduced Range of Motion: As OA progresses, the ability to move the hip joint freely can decrease, making daily activities like bending or walking difficult.
  • Crepitus: A grating or crackling sensation or sound in the hip joint during movement can be a sign of OA, indicating that the cartilage has worn down.
  • Swelling and Tenderness: The area around the hip joint may become swollen or tender as a result of inflammation.
  • Changes in Gait: To avoid pain, people might change the way they walk, leading to an altered gait, which can further impact other joints and muscles.
  • Weakness in Muscles and Ligaments: The muscles and ligaments around the hip joint can weaken and contribute to decreased joint stability.

Symptoms can vary in intensity and may not directly correlate with the degree of joint damage observed in imaging studies. Early consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon is advised if these symptoms are observed.


The diagnosis of hip OA involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests. Key aspects of the diagnostic process include:

  • Medical History: A thorough medical history helps to identify symptoms, onset, and progression of the condition, as well as any factors that may contribute to hip OA, such as previous injuries or family history.
  • Physical Examination: During the examination, an orthopaedic surgeon will assess hip mobility, strength, and alignment. They will also look for signs of pain, tenderness, swelling, and changes in gait.
  • Imaging Tests:
    • X-rays: These are the primary imaging methods used to diagnose hip OA. X-rays can reveal joint space narrowing, changes in bone structure, and the presence of bone spurs.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Although not routinely used for diagnosing OA, MRI can provide detailed images of both bone and soft tissues, including cartilage.
  • Laboratory Tests: While there are no specific blood tests for OA, certain tests can help rule out other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment Options 

Treatment options range from non-surgical measures, including medication and lifestyle modifications, to surgical interventions like hip replacement. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of symptoms, patient needs, and overall health. 

Non-Surgical Treatments

As with other arthritic conditions, early treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip is nonsurgical. An orthopaedic specialist may recommend a range of nonsurgical treatment options. 

  • Pain Management:
    • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can be effective in managing pain and inflammation.
    • Topical Treatments: Creams and gels containing pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory ingredients can be applied directly to the hip.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can develop a personalised exercise program to strengthen the muscles around the hip, improve flexibility, and reduce pain.
  • Lifestyle Modifications:
    • Weight Management: Reducing body weight can significantly decrease the stress on the hip joint.
    • Activity Modification: Altering activities to avoid movements that exacerbate pain while staying active is important.
  • Assistive Devices: Using walking aids like canes or walkers can help reduce pain and improve mobility.
  • Intra-articular Injections: Corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections into the hip joint can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation.

While these treatments can relieve symptoms, they do not cure OA or reverse the damage to the joint. Regular follow-up and adjustments to the treatment plan are essential to manage the condition.

Surgical Treatments

In cases where conservative treatments for hip OA are not effective, or when the condition significantly impairs quality of life, surgical options may be considered. The most common surgical interventions include:

  • Total Hip Replacement (Arthroplasty): This is a major surgery where the damaged hip joint is replaced with artificial components. It is highly effective in relieving pain and restoring joint function.
  • Hip Resurfacing: A less invasive alternative to total hip replacement, hip resurfacing involves replacing the surfaces of the hip joint with metal components, preserving more of the natural bone.
  • Osteotomy: In younger patients with limited damage, an osteotomy can be performed to realign the hip joint, thereby reducing pain and delaying the need for a total hip replacement.
  • Arthroscopic Surgery: While less common for OA, arthroscopic procedures can be used to clean out the joint or repair minor damage.

Recovery Process Post-Surgical Intervention

Rehabilitation is a crucial part of the recovery process following surgical interventions for hip OA. The goals of rehabilitation include restoring mobility, strengthening the joint, and returning to normal activities. Key components of the rehabilitation process are:

  • Physical Therapy: Begins shortly after surgery to improve hip function. Physical therapists guide patients through exercises to increase range of motion, strengthen muscles, and improve balance.
  • Pain Management: Postoperative pain is managed through medications and techniques like ice therapy and gentle exercises.
  • Home Care Instructions: Patients receive guidance on how to perform daily activities safely, such as walking, sitting, and climbing stairs, to avoid dislocation of the new joint.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Recommendations may include weight management, low-impact exercises, and ergonomic adjustments at home and work to support joint health.
  • Follow-up Care: Regular check-ups with the orthopaedic specialist and physical therapists are essential to monitor recovery progress and adjust the rehabilitation plan as needed.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

While hip OA cannot always be prevented, certain measures can reduce the risk of developing the condition and slow its progression. These include:

  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Reducing excess body weight can alleviate stress on the hip joints, decreasing the risk of OA development and progression.
  • Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular, low-impact physical activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling helps maintain joint mobility and muscle strength.
  • Balanced Diet: A diet rich in nutrients, particularly those that support bone and joint health, can be beneficial.
  • Proper Posture and Ergonomics: Using correct techniques while lifting heavy objects and maintaining proper posture can reduce strain on the hip joints.
  • Avoiding Joint Injuries: Protective measures during sports and other activities can help prevent injuries that may lead to OA later in life.
  • Early Intervention: Seeking medical advice from an orthopaedic surgeon for hip pain or discomfort can lead to early diagnosis and management, potentially slowing the progression of OA.


Hip osteoarthritis is a common, degenerative joint disease that primarily affects the elderly. It leads to the progressive breakdown of cartilage, causing pain, stiffness, and a reduced range of motion in the hip joint. Understanding the contributing factors, such as age-related changes, genetics, obesity, and previous injuries, is important. Early recognition of symptoms, such as pain and reduced mobility, can help prompt diagnosis and facilitate effective management.