Do you have arthritis? A lot of your friends and family members probably have arthritis too. As a matter of fact, osteoarthritis is diagnosed by physicians more often than any other joint disease or disorder.
However, not everyone experiences osteoarthritis in the same way. You may only feel some pain when you get out of bed in the morning, or after sitting for a long period of time. And you might feel fine once you get going.
Although there are many different types of arthritis, there is a good chance you are suffering from osteoarthritis, which is the most common type. In fact, you can have signs of arthritis on your X-rays even though you have no pain at all.
Why doesn’t everyone who has osteoarthritis experience the same problems? The answer to this question becomes clearer when you understand that osteoarthritis is a progressive disease – meaning that the longer you have it, especially if you don’t change some of your habits, the worse it can get.
The reason you might experience hip arthritis differently than your best friend or your family member is because you are probably in a different stage of the disease than they are. Osteoarthritis can be classified into four different stages, and the stage you are in will determine your best choice of treatment.
So, which stage of hip osteoarthritis are you in? Your orthopedic surgeon is most qualified to identify this for you, but here are some general rules of thumb.
What Is Hip Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and the older you are, the more likely you will have some degree of the disease – especially in your hips and knees. Simply put, it is usually caused by the wear and tear on your joints from years of use, from overuse and repetitive motions, or from injury. Your “weight-bearing” joints are particularly vulnerable to developing arthritis, because they must absorb the physical stress and impact of your active lifestyle. Your knees and hips bear the brunt of every step, leap, jump, or stride you perform in your lifetime.
Luckily, our joints are made to handle this stress. In fact, the cartilage inside of your joints consists of a smooth surface that acts as a shock absorber. The synovial fluid in this same space acts as a lubricant. All of this works together to protect the bones that make up your joints – that is, until these protective tissues wear down and stop working as well as they used to.
Imagine a car that has been used for years on dirt roads, or that was driven for many thousands of miles. Eventually, the shock absorbers might wear down, and the fluids will definitely need to be changed. Similarly, given enough stress, our joints will also begin to break down. Cartilage can swell and weaken, or it can become too thin to provide a protective cushioning. When this happens, bone can become damaged in the joints and can develop bone spurs. These spurs make the bone irregular or jagged in shape, so when the joint moves, the rubbing causes pain – and when this increases in severity, the pain can become chronic.
Let’s take a look at the different stages of hip osteoarthritis in order to help you understand some of your symptoms and possible treatment options.
Stage 1 (Minor) Hip Osteoarthritis
You may not even know if you have Stage 1 osteoarthritis because many people have no symptoms. If anything, you may have a little pain or stiffness, and there may be small bone spurs in your hip joint.
At this point, prevention is the best medicine. Your doctor may recommend the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. It is also advisable to stay active, engaging in regular exercise to strengthen your muscles and to stabilize and improve the flexibility of your joints.
Stage 2 (Mild) Hip Osteoarthritis
At this stage, you will probably be experiencing some pain and discomfort in your hip area. You might notice that you are stiff, especially when you first get up in the morning or after sitting for a long time. Those first few steps will be tough on whichever hip has arthritis, but once you get going, it usually subsides. Your X-rays may show bone spurs at this point, but the section between the bones in your hip joint will still be adequate.
To try to prevent worsening symptoms, it is advised to maintain a regular workout schedule. It is very important to strengthen the muscles around your arthritic joints in order to help stabilize them. Imagine driving down the street with fragile items that you don’t want damaged in the back. The best way to do that is to secure them. It’s the same with your joints: By strengthening the muscles attached to the hip, you are better able to protect the joint and keep it strong.
Stage 3 (Moderate) Hip Osteoarthritis
If you have Stage 3 osteoarthritis of the hip, you’re not only experiencing pain and stiffness when you first get moving. You will also probably experience pain with activity. Going up and down steps, being on your feet for long periods of time, and even walking might be bothersome.
The longer you are active, the more swelling and inflammation there will be in the hip with arthritis. This is because you now have larger bone spurs in an increasing number that may be scraping, as well as eroded cartilage and a narrowing space between the hip bones. The changes in your hip at this point may even cause a popping or snapping sound.
You should continue doing everything you’ve been doing for Stage 1 or 2 to help your discomfort. However, it may be necessary now to add some pain medications. Acetaminophen, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), should help ease the pain; but consult with your doctor before taking anything to make sure it is the right medication for you.
If you are overweight, losing weight will make a difference in reducing your hip arthritis pain. Extra weight will only put added stress on your hip and can accelerate the rate at which your arthritis develops.
Seeing an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in diseases of the bone and joint is a great way to get the best treatment available for your hip pain. The doctor might determine that physical therapy will help strengthen your joints and ease your pain. An orthopedic surgeon may also recommend injections of either steroids to decrease inflammation or lubricating fluids to replenish the fluids that naturally lubricate your joint.
Stage 4 (Severe) Hip Osteoarthritis
Since osteoarthritis is a progressive illness, eventually you may experience Stage 4 osteoarthritis in one or both hips. At this point, the cartilage would have become so thin and brittle and the synovial fluid so diminished that you experience pain and stiffness most of the time, even when you’re not moving. Sometimes the pain can be very severe and can make it difficult for you to complete even the simplest of tasks, and can keep you awake at night too.
Hopefully by this stage you have been seeing an orthopedic surgeon, because your quality of life can greatly improve with the help of the right physician. They can review your options with you, which may include surgery to replace some or all of the arthritic hip. The surgical procedures available today are very successful, with faster and easier recoveries than ever before, and you can be left with a hip free of arthritis and free of pain.
Orthopedic Surgeon in Raleigh
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms of hip osteoarthritis, or if you are bothered with hip pain that is interfering with your lifestyle, contact our friendly team today at the offices of Dr. Brett Gilbert by calling us at (919) 788-8797 or you can request an appointment with Dr. Gilbert using our appointment request form, or you can self-schedule your appointment here.
Let us help you get back to enjoying life without pain once again.