What’s Causing Your Hip Pain?

As we age, the body goes through normal wear and tear — specifically the bones, muscles and joints. This is why hip, knee and back pain are some of the most common ailments that elderly patients will present with. The hips, for example, consist of a ball and socket joint that allows you to move. However, the cushion of cartilage that helps prevent friction can ultimately become damaged or break down over time.

Along with normal wear and tear, there are other conditions that can cause one to develop hip pain — most commonly arthritis or related conditions, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. When you have arthritis, you have a combination of both a breakdown of the cartilage as well as inflammation in the hip joint which causes pain, and gradually worsens over time. Having arthritis in the hips can also cause hip stiffness, and you may have a reduced range of motion. Similarly, osteoarthritis also has the same symptoms. Not only can it be caused by wear and tear, but it can also develop as a result of an injury, or even obesity. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, occurs when your immune system targets the linings of your joints. Along with the hips, RA can also affect the hands, wrists, and knees, and it is often symmetrical in nature which makes it easy for healthcare professionals to differentiate between it and other types of arthritis.

Your hips can also hurt as a result of bursitis, which is a condition that occurs when bursae (the sacs of liquid that are found between your bones, muscles and tendons) becomes inflamed, as well as tendonitis. Bursitis and tendonitis are both typically caused from the hip joints being overworked. Tendonitis can also occur in the wrists and is commonly seen in individuals who do a lot of writing or typing, or play certain sports, such as tennis.

Aging isn’t the only thing that puts you at risk of developing hip problems. If you’re an athlete, for example, you’re also at risk of suffering a hip labral tear, which can be caused from repetitive twisting movements. A hip labral tear occurs when a ring of cartilage, known as the labrum, rips. The labrum is what cushions the hip joint as well as acts like a rubber seal that securely connects your thighbone to the hip socket. When the labral becomes ripped, that is when you’ll experience pain.

If you have hip pain, it’s not uncommon for that pain to radiate to other areas as well, such as the thigh, groin, and even buttocks. Alternatively, other health conditions that are known to cause pain (such as a hernia) can also radiate to the hips and can sometimes be mistaken for a hip problem.

The first type of treatment that is usually recommended for someone with hip pain is over-the-counter medications, such as NSAIDS — also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications can be highly effective in reducing inflammation and therefore reducing pain. However, long-term use of NSAIDs is typically not recommended as they put you at an increased risk of developing a gastrointestinal bleed, diarrhea, and even hypertension (high blood pressure.) If you are going to be taking this type of medication for an extended period of time, it’s important that you report any abnormal side effects to your physician. In cases where the pain is severe, doctors may also prescribe corticosteroid drugs. You can also try to relieve the pain by alternating between applying hot and/or cold to the affected area for 15 minutes at a time, or by taking a warm bath or shower. If you have arthritis or a related condition, low-impact exercise, such as stretching, swimming, and resistance training can all help to reduce pain as well as improve joint mobility and range of motion.

Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. http://www.alighahary.ca

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