Medical Science has improved so much over the past century that it is not unusual these days for us to reach our late eighties and even our nineties. As well as better health education, there are so many helpful drugs and surgical procedures available to help keep our hearts pumping and arteries clear. We can control diabetes and cholesterol and blood pressure, and successfully diagnose and treat more and more cancers. So if we want to enjoy our longer lifespan, we have to look after our joints!
This is especially important for our hips and our knees. One of the best things we can do for our joints is to watch our weight! If you are carrying too much weight, you are putting an enormous amount of extra wear and tear on your hip and knee joints. Likewise, by losing just 5 kgs, you can often reduce or eliminate hip and knee pain.
The hip joint is an amazing ball and socket joint. It has a protective layers of cartilage between the ball (head of femur) and the socket (acetabulum) that prevent friction and absorb shock through the joint. The hip joint is held together with ligaments and strong muscles that stabilize and move the hip joint and allow us to walk and run, sit and stand, squat, walk up and down stairs, stand on one leg and perform all manner of athletic activities.
Hip Pain is very debilitating and should be treated as soon as possible, otherwise you may start favouring one leg and develop compensating patterns of movement and weakness and end up with secondary pain in your knees or back. Arthritic hip pain can be reduced by strengthening the correct muscles. It is important to start gently and build slowly with the right exercises.
Depending on what is the cause of the pain, hip pain may be felt on the outside of the thigh, running down to the knee, or in the groin area and running down the inside of the thigh to the knee. It may be too painful to sleep on that side. It may cause you to limp. It may prevent you from crossing your knees, or make it difficult to get out of a chair, or too painful to negotiate a flight of stairs.
If the hip pain was caused by a fall, there may be a fracture or a tear in the capsule or cartilage. This can be verified by your doctor with an Xray, CT scan or MRI. Hip fractures are very common with older people who have bone thinning (osteoporosis). Your physiotherapist can design a personalised exercise program for you to help maintain your bone density and build strong muscles, especially the muscles around your pelvis, lower back, hips and thighs, thus preventing a fall in the first place.
Lateral hip pain may be due to bursitis, which is an inflammation of the fluid filled cushioning sac between the hip bone and overlying tendons and muscles. This may be triggered by poor posture and associated muscle imbalance, especially if you have taken up a new sport or activity. Again, this needs to be assessed by your physio who will treat the immediate symptoms and also prescribe the correct exercises to do, and how to progress them gradually so you won’t exacerbate the problem.
Most of all, if you develop hip pain, get help ASAP and look after your hips!