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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common problem for many people after middle age. OA is sometimes referred to as degenerative, or wear-and-tear, arthritis. OA commonly affects the hip joint. Articular cartilage is the smooth lining that covers the surfaces of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. The cartilage gives the joint freedom of movement by decreasing friction. The layer of bone just below the articular cartilage is called subchondral bone. The main problem in OA is degeneration of the articular cartilage. When the articular cartilage degenerates, or wears away, the subchondral bone is uncovered and rubs against bone. Small outgrowths called bone spurs or osteophytes may form in the joint.


There are numerous reasons, or contributors, to OA of the hip. One of the most common is a hip injury earlier in life. Changes in the movement and alignment of the hip eventually lead to wear and tear on the joint surfaces. The alignment of the hip can be altered from a fracture in the bones around or inside the hip. If the fracture changes the alignment of the hip, this can lead to excessive wear and tear, just like the out-of-balance tire that wears out too soon on your car. Cartilage injuries, infection, or bleeding within the joint can also damage the joint surface of the hip. Not all cases of OA are related to alignment problems or a prior injury, however. There is research that supports the idea that genetics makes some people more prone to developing OA in the hip.


The symptoms of hip OA usually begin as pain while putting weight on the affected hip. Typically the pain will be located in your groin, but may also be felt on the side or back of the hip. You may limp, which is the body's way of reducing the amount of force that the hip has to deal with. The changes that happen with OA cause the affected hip to feel stiff and tight due to a loss in its range of motion. Finally, as the condition becomes worse, pain may be present all the time and may even keep you awake at night.


Physical therapy will utilize a variety of techniques to decrease the pain in your hip as well as teach you ways to maximize the health of your hip. These techniques will involve hands on techniques to increase the flexibility of the hip joint as well as the surrounding muscles and joints. Various exercises will also be used to strengthen the hip to decrease the stress through the joint. A cane or walker may be needed to ease pressure when walking. Your therapist may also make various suggestions to decrease the stress through your hip during every day tasks.