Hip avascular necrosis (AVN), also known as osteonecrosis, is a condition characterised by the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. It primarily affects the femoral head, the upper end of the thigh bone that fits into the hip socket. Avascular necrosis can lead to pain and, if left untreated, may result in the joint collapsing. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to preserving the hip joint and its function.

Understanding the causes and identifying the condition early are vital steps in managing AVN and mitigating its consequences on the quality of life.

What Are the Treatment Options for Hip Avascular Necrosis (AVN)?

Various treatment options can help manage and slow down the progression of AVN, ranging from conservative measures like medication and lifestyle modifications to surgical interventions such as core decompression or hip replacement. The appropriate approach depends on the disease’s severity and the person’s overall health.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

For cases of hip avascular necrosis (AVN) diagnosed in the early stages, non-surgical treatment options can be effective in managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the condition. Here are the non-surgical treatments:

  • Medications: Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage pain and reduce inflammation in the hip joint. In some cases, medications that can decrease bone loss or increase bone formation may be recommended.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Reducing activities that put stress on the affected hip can alleviate symptoms. Patients may be advised to avoid high-impact activities and, if necessary, lose weight to lessen pressure on the hip.
  • Physical Therapy: Engaging in physical therapy can strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, improve flexibility, and support joint stability. A tailored exercise program can also help maintain range of motion and reduce stiffness.
  • Assistive Devices: Using crutches, canes, or walkers can help reduce the load on the hip, allowing the joint to heal and preventing further damage.
  • Blood Flow Improvement: Treatments aimed at improving blood flow to the affected area of the bone, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, have shown promise in some cases. These therapies aim to enhance oxygen delivery to bone tissue, thereby supporting its healing and regeneration.
  • Bisphosphonates: These medications, often used to treat osteoporosis, have shown some effectiveness in slowing the progression of AVN by preventing bone loss.

It is important to note that while these non-surgical options can be beneficial, they may not be suitable for all patients or all stages of AVN. Regular monitoring and follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon are essential to assess the effectiveness of these treatments and make adjustments as needed.

Surgical Treatment Options

When non-surgical treatments are not effective, or the condition of hip avascular necrosis (AVN) has progressed to a more advanced stage, surgical interventions may be considered. Here are the common surgical options:

  • Core Decompression: This procedure involves removing part of the inner layer of bone, reducing pressure within the bone to improve blood flow and stimulate the growth of new, healthy bone tissue. Core decompression is most effective in the early stages of AVN before the femoral head collapses.
  • Osteotomy: This surgery involves cutting and realigning the bone to reduce stress on the affected area. By shifting weight away from the damaged bone, an osteotomy can help relieve pain and delay the need for a hip replacement.
  • Bone Grafting: Bone grafting can be used to support the hip joint by transplanting healthy bone tissue from another part of the body to the affected area. This method can help repair the damaged bone and restore blood supply.
  • Total Hip Replacement: In cases where the hip joint is severely damaged, a total hip replacement may be recommended. This procedure involves replacing the damaged bone and cartilage with artificial components. Total hip replacement can provide significant pain relief and improve joint function but is typically considered when other treatments have failed, or the damage is extensive.
  • Hip Resurfacing: As an alternative to total hip replacement, hip resurfacing involves trimming and capping the femoral head with a smooth metal covering. This option can preserve more of the natural bone and may be suitable for younger, more active patients.

The selection of a surgical option is a critical decision that requires thorough evaluation and discussion between the patient and the orthopaedic surgeon. Factors such as the patient’s overall health, the severity of AVN, and the expected outcomes of surgery are considered in making this decision. 

Rehabilitation and Recovery

Following surgical treatment for hip avascular necrosis (AVN), rehabilitation and recovery are critical components of the overall treatment plan. A comprehensive rehabilitation program typically includes:

  • Physical Therapy: Beginning shortly after surgery, physical therapy plays a pivotal role in recovery. Initially, the focus is on gentle exercises to improve circulation and prevent blood clots. As healing progresses, therapy includes exercises to strengthen the hip and improve flexibility.
  • Pain Management: Effective pain management is essential for a comfortable recovery and active participation in rehabilitation. Pain relief strategies may include medications, ice, and rest, especially in the early stages after surgery.
  • Activity Modification: Patients are educated on how to modify activities to protect the hip joint during the recovery period. This includes learning safe ways to perform daily activities and understanding limitations to avoid putting undue stress on the hip.
  • Assistive Devices: Crutches, walkers, or canes may be used during the initial stages of recovery to reduce weight-bearing on the affected hip. The use of these devices is gradually decreased as the patient’s strength and mobility improve.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle supports recovery and overall well-being. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, following a nutritious diet, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Regular Follow-up: Ongoing follow-up appointments with the orthopaedic surgeon are essential to monitor the healing process, assess the effectiveness of rehabilitation, and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Recovery times can vary significantly based on the type of surgery performed, the severity of the AVN before surgery, and the person’s overall health. Adhering to the rehabilitation plan and maintaining open communication with the orthopaedic surgeon is important for a successful recovery.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

While not all cases of hip avascular necrosis (AVN) can be prevented, there are strategies to reduce the risk of developing this condition. These measures are particularly relevant for people with known risk factors for AVN. Key prevention and risk reduction strategies include:

  • Limiting Steroid Use: When possible, minimising the use of corticosteroids can reduce the risk of AVN. If steroids are necessary for treatment, using the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible duration is advisable.
  • Moderating Alcohol Consumption: Reducing alcohol intake can decrease the risk of developing AVN. Guidelines suggest moderate drinking as a preventive measure.
  • Managing Chronic Conditions: Effective management of conditions that can contribute to AVN, such as sickle cell anaemia, lupus, and thrombophilia, is important. Regular medical check-ups and adhering to treatment plans can help mitigate the risk.
  • Avoiding Smoking: Tobacco use can affect blood circulation and increase the risk of AVN. Quitting smoking is recommended to support overall vascular health.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Excess weight can put additional stress on the hip joints. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can help reduce the risk of AVN.
  • Prompt Treatment of Hip Injuries: Early intervention following hip injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, can prevent complications that may lead to AVN. Seeking immediate medical attention for hip trauma is essential.
  • Regular Physical Activity: Engaging in regular, low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking, or cycling can improve joint health and blood circulation, potentially reducing the risk of AVN.

By adopting these lifestyle and health management strategies, people can significantly reduce their risk of developing hip avascular necrosis. Awareness and proactive management of risk factors are key components of prevention.


Hip avascular necrosis (AVN), or osteonecrosis, is a condition that poses significant challenges to joint health and mobility. Characterised by the loss of blood supply to the femoral head, AVN can lead to severe pain and, in advanced cases, joint collapse. Understanding the causes, recognising the symptoms early, and exploring a range of treatment options are important steps in managing this condition.