By Colin A. Mudrick, MD
A rising number of people are suffering from chronic hip pain and arthritis. In response, hip replacements are becoming increasingly common in the United States. While a hip replacement is an option for pain relief, there may be non-invasive treatment methods worth exploring first.
Here’s a look at the common sources of hip pain and a few ideas for you to discuss with your doctor before considering a hip replacement.
Understanding Hip Arthritis
Hip arthritis is most commonly caused by mechanical wear and tear of the joint surface known as osteoarthritis. This is a physical breakdown of the cartilage that covers the ball and socket joint of your hip.
The first step in understanding hip arthritis is to identify the source of the pain. Pain from an arthritic hip is most often felt in the groin and/or thigh. Pain can also be located in the buttocks or lateral aspect of hip. There are many other causes of pain in the hip region, thus it is important to work with a physician who treats hip problems. He/She can identify the source of the pain through a physical exam and X-ray findings.
Carefully Monitor Your Hip Pain Level
The earlier the diagnosis, the more non-surgical options there are. You’re more likely to reduce pain and increase range of motion without surgery. This is important to note regardless of the level of pain.
Patients typically do not come in until their pain begins to limit daily activity. This begins with mild discomfort during exercise, but can progress to pain when walking. Eventually the pain is present even without activity and can even make it difficult to sleep.
If you’re experiencing hip pain, we recommend documenting the time of day, severity, and activity causing the pain. That will help us better diagnose your pain and find the best treatment plan for you.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Hip Arthritis
If you’ve been diagnosed with hip arthritis, a hip replacement is not your only option. If you’ve seen a doctor early on, you may be able to address your hip arthritis with treatments such as the following:
Repetitive loading of your hip joint, such as with running or tennis, can aggravate hip arthritis. Try activities such as cycling or using the elliptical. They will still give you a great cardiovascular workout while minimizing the stress to your hip.
Your hip experiences 2-3 times your body weight while performing normal daily activities. Losing weight can help reduce the wear and tear on your hip joint. Anyone overweight with hip pain can benefit from losing weight. This is especially true for someone who is considering surgery. Recent studies have shown a dramatic increase in infection risk in patient who are over a certain weight.
Many patients may have already tried over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol. These medications treat inflammation and therefore reduce pain. There are also prescription anti-inflammatory medications that are used to aid in pain reduction. It’s important however, to be careful about how you medicate.
Many anti-inflammatory medications are processed by your kidneys. Taken chronically, they can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s important that your doctor follows you closely if you are taking the medications for an extended period of time. This might mean anything longer than 2 to 3 months.
If you can’t tolerate anti-inflammatory medications, there are other pharmaceutical treatment options. These include topical gels and steroid injections directly into the joint. Both can cause significant relief, although likely temporary.
Hip-strengthening exercises can help you regain strength in your hip and leg muscles, reduce pain, and increase range of motion.
Hip arthroscopy is a procedure in which your doctor puts a scope or camera into the hip. This treatment typically treats younger patients predisposed to hip issues.
Many of the above mentioned options will help to alleviate the pain temporarily. At some point these measures begin to lose their efficacy or the arthritis progresses. The more permanent solution becomes a hip replacement.
When to Consider Hip Replacement
An appropriately prescribed hip replacement fixes the mechanical issues you may be experiencing. And it’s the only treatment option that does such.
The hip replacement experience has drastically improved over the past 20-30 years. Many improvements are directly tied to the way in which pain is managed post-operatively. Many surgeons use a “multi-modal” pain regimen that targets different pain receptors in the brain and the site of the surgery. Patients are getting up faster and are leaving the hospital sooner. Thirty years ago, many patients spent up to two weeks in the hospital after surgery. Today, many people go home within 1-2 days and in some centers in the country are even going home the same day.
If you have tried alternative treatment methods for your hip arthritis, it may be time to discuss the next step. Your doctor may suggest a hip replacement as the best option for you. If so, contact our doctors at Tuckahoe Orthopaedics today to discuss what’s next for you.