Healthy Tahoe: Is arthritis causing your hip pain?

Robert Rupp, MD
Dr. Robert Rupp

Hip osteoarthritis is often the cause of hip pain as we age. Osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, refers to the breakdown or degeneration of the cartilage that coats and protects the bone surfaces where there is movement in a joint. Unfortunately, our body does not repair or regenerate new cartilage when it becomes injured and wears down. The loss of the protective joint cartilage leads to friction between bone surfaces which can cause joint pain and stiffness.

Factors associated with hip osteoarthritis include advancing age, family history of osteoarthritis, joint injury, obesity, and an abnormally shaped hip joint which can occur during birth or childhood.

The most common symptom of hip osteoarthritis is pain which usually develops gradually and worsens with time. The pain is typically deep in the front of the hip and can radiate to the buttock or knee. The pain tends to be worse in the morning after inactivity or aggravated with vigorous activity. Many people with hip osteoarthritis describe associated hip stiffness, grinding or giving out episodes, and a limp.

The diagnosis of hip osteoarthritis is made by physician exam and imaging studies such as radiographs and MRI scans. Imaging studies may show joint space narrowing from loss of cartilage, bone spur formation, and abnormally shaped hip bones.

Since there is no cure for hip osteoarthritis, treatment is directed at relieving pain and improving joint mobility, both surgically and nonsurgically. 

Nonsurgical options include lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, and medications. Lifestyle modifications focus on avoidance of activities that increase stress through the hip joint, weight loss, and use of assistive devices such as a cane. Physical therapy optimizes muscle control of the joint and regaining motion. Medications include over-the-counter acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory medications which can be taken by mouth or injected into the hip joint. 

Surgical treatments for osteoarthritis include hip arthroscopy and hip replacement procedures. If the hip has an abnormal shape and the arthritis is mild, it can often be corrected with hip arthroscopy. If the arthritis is severe, hip replacement surgery is needed to replace the worn out joint with new surfaces made of metal, plastic, or ceramic to restore function.

Speak with your health care provider about your hip pain. They may be able to offer additional suggestions to minimize your risk for hip osteoarthritis. In most cases, treatment can relieve the pain of osteoarthritis, making it easier to perform daily activities. 

Dr. Robert Rupp is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and program director of the Lake Tahoe Sports Medicine Fellowship. He is a sports medicine specialist treating shoulder, hip, and knee conditions in Carson City, Incline Village, and at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness in South Lake Tahoe. To learn more about orthopedic services available, call 530-543-5554 or go to

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