Hip arthritis occurs when there is degeneration in the hip causing damage to the joint surface (figures 1 and 2). There are numerous different causes but the most common is osteoarthritis and this is most often seen in the older patient. However, it can occur earlier due to abnormalities within the hip. This may be due to a previous injury, childhood hip disease, femero-acetabular impingement or problems with the blood supply to the hip.
Commonly, this causes groin pain often going down the thigh to the knee. The hip is stiff, and the patient walks with a limp. As the arthritis becomes more widespread and severe, the pain becomes more constant, it may occur at night and be associated with increased stiffness, decreased mobility and activitu.
X-rays of the hip to confirm the diagnosis are taken as standard. More complex scans such as CT or Magnetic Resonance may be needed to aid surgical planning.
To begin with, simple measures are tried such as painkillers, weight loss and activity modification. Oral supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may benefit some patients, especially with early arthritis. Occasionally, steroid injections may be used to either confirm the source of the pain (e.g. if the patient also has back pain) or in those patients who are not fit for a joint replacement.
For more information about arthritis see the NHS website
Who does this affect? Labral tears usually occur in patients who have femero-acetabular impingement. These patients have either an abnormal bump on their femoral neck or an overhanging pelvic cup. In both these cases, the soft cartilaginous cup rim (labrum) gets damaged (figure 1) as the hip bends up. Initially the rim is simply peeled back but eventually it becomes torn and occasionally shredded. Patients are typically younger and very active, often taking part in sports such as running, kick-boxing, mountain biking and horse riding. Occasionally it can occur due to a severe and traumatic injury e.g. hip dislocation while playing rugby.
Symptoms Patients with labral tears present with deep sharp groin pain, which may only occur on full hip bending. They may or may not be an associated deep click, which can be either due to the torn labrum, or more commonly, an inflamed tendon running over the front of the hip. If the condition has been present for some time, there may also be inflammation of the tissues surrounding the hip such as the outer hip (trochanteric bursitis), the groin muscles (adductor tendonitis) or infammation of tendons in front of the hip (sartorius tendonitis).
Investigations All patients undergo specialised x-rays of the hip as well as more complex scans such as CT and Magnetic Resonance Arthrography (MRA). The MR arthrogram involves injecting dye into the hip joint prior to the scan. This allows identification of the torn cartilage. CT scans are used to accurately map out the bony deformity. This is very important when planning the surgery.
Non-surgical Treatment Not everyone needs surgery so we initially treat patients with physiotherapy, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and modification of activity. However, if they have a proven labral tear and physiotherapy has not cured their symptoms, then it is recommended that they undergo key-hole hip surgery (hip arthroscopy) first to address both the torn cartilage and bony abnormality, then undergo our specialist rehabilitation afterwards. A patient who has a painful hip and a proven tear is unlikely to settle without surgical intervention.
Surgical Treatment The treatment of choice is hip arthroscopy. This allows access to both the true hip joint itself and the front of the femoral head where the bony abnormality is often located. Most patients do not have frank labral tears, rather the labrum is peeled back from the acetabular rim. In those patients where there is a gross tear, there is good evidence to show that patients do better long term if the tear is repaired. Occasionally the labrum is frayed and is simply debrided back until it is stable. Once that is carried out, the rest of the joint surfaces are inspected and treated as required. If the joint surface is damaged, it can be trimmed back if minor or if more severe, then specialist techniques can be carried out to encourage new cartilage growth, such as stem cell grafting.
If there is an underlying bony abnormality on either the femoral head or the bony pelvic cup, then that is also addressed at this stage. This is technically difficult surgery but can achieve excellent results if carried out correctly and on the right patient. Based on Professor Fehily’s own experience and that of the wider orthopaedic community, certain patients do not do well from hip arthroscopy e.g. patients with significant hip arthritis, patients with severe childhood hip disease (hip dysplasia) or patients with inflammatory hip disease (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). Occasionally, the bony deformity may be so large that an adequate bony reshaping is not possible using key-hole surgical techniques. In these cases the operation is done using an open technique and the labral tear can be addressed at the same time. In some cases, the damage caused to the joint by the impingement may be so severe that the only reliable option is a joint replacement. However, all patients are different and advantages and disadvantages of the various treatment options can be discussed at the time of your consultation with Professor Fehily.
They say prevention is better than cure and that is certainly true in hips! Having said that you can’t change your genetics. Some people have a certain shape to their hip which seems to predispose to early hip osteoarthritis. These ‘CAM’ and ‘Pincer’ shaped hips predispose to pinching (impingement) of the hip against its socket, leading to damaged cartilage and eventually arthritis. Hip Arthroscopy surgery can be used to reshape the hip and may prevent early arthritis progressing to advanced stages.
The most important modifiable risk factors for arthritis is your weight and activity level. Being even slightly overweight leads to increased load on the hip joint. Over time the hip can be squashed down and change shape permanently. The increased angle leads to more pinching and the hip wears down more quickly. Losing weight can slow the whole process down. Other people have illnesses in childhood such as Hip Dysplasia (the hip and socket are too shallow, having not formed properly), Perthes disease (the blood supply to the hip gets cut off in childhood), or Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (the growth plate of the bone slips out of place). All of these conditions need to be spotted in childhood so something can be done about it and potentially prevent adult hip osteoarthritis.
Early hip OA is much easier to fix than advanced OA. Sometimes X-rays can miss the early features, MRI or CT scans are more reliable. If you are sure that you have hip or groin pain, but the X-ray is normal, you will need to speak to your doctor about a specialist opinion or scan.
Sometimes a steroid injection done under X-ray guidance can give temporary relief, and provide clarification around whether pain in the groin or buttock area is truly coming from the hip joint, however, they generally wear off after 2-3 months, so it is not a long-term option. Another alternative to steroid injections that have been known to offer short term, yet effective pain relief, are the taking of certain strains of medical marijuana. But only if it is legal to do so in your area. Places similar to Leaf2Go, (visit this website here) offer a choice of the best strains that can help with pain and other physical or mental ailments, but again, this may not be a long term solution. Other substances such as hyaluronic acid (an artificial version of your natural joint fluid) and PRP are also being used but need to be further evaluated to see if they have long-term benefit.
It is important to do regular strengthening exercise (such as core stability and pilates) and maintain a healthy weight, if hip pain is becoming intrusive, ask to see one of our specialists.
The Manchester Hip Clinic is committed to helping all kinds of people with hip problems to be free from pain and often to resume near-normal levels of physical activity – even those who may have thought that such relief would never be possible.