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Hip pain

Hip pain is usually associated with getting older. It’s caused by osteoarthritis, which’s the most common type of arthritis. The hip joint is very susceptible to arthritis, as the cartilage around the joints between the bones wears out over time. 

  • Inflammation of tissue around the hip joint often causes pain
  • Muscle strengthening exercises and losing weight can help
  • Can be treated with painkillers or surgery

If you would like to speak to one of our GPhC-registered clinicians about hip pain, you can do so via our online video consultation service from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

  • UK prescribers
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Possible causes

What causes hip pain?

Osteoarthritis is often the cause of hip pain. It occurs as a consequence of accumulative wear and tear in the joints. Such wear and tear increases with age, but it can also be affected by weight gain. 

A deformity caused by a severe injury can also leave you more prone to developing osteoarthritis. The pain felt is usually localised to the groin, and is accompanied by a stiffness that impairs functionality. It’s more common in women than men, and particularly amongst older people. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common type of arthritis and can sometimes affect the hip, although this is rare.

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome is another common cause of hip pain. Like Osteoarthritis, it’s more prevalent amongst older women. It results in pain on the outer side of the thigh, just beneath the hip. It’s caused by repetitive movements and prolonged pressure, which is why it’s a common condition in runners and footballers.

When older people suffer from a fall, it can often lead to a hip fracture. It’s the single most common cause of admittance to an orthopaedic ward. Hip fractures often occur as a result of osteoporosis - a condition that weakens the bones, making them more prone to breaking.

A further condition that can trigger hip pain is femoroacetabular impingement, in which extra bone develops along either one or both bones that make up the hip joint. Because the bones don’t fit together correctly, they rub against one another, creating pain in the hip joint.

Diagnosing the cause of hip pain

A clinician will review your medical history, and establish whether hip problems run in your family. They will look to determine more details about the pain. For example, they may ask whether the symptoms are worse after you have been active, or if they’re more severe whilst at rest, and whether you had an accident or any illness leading up to the pain. 

Following these checks, a doctor will conduct a physical exam, focusing on the hip - particularly if you have been experiencing other joint problems aside from the hip. A clinician will look for tenderness on the hip and any signs of swelling. They may also test the functionality of the hip by asking you to walk or stretch.

The final step for diagnosing the cause of hip pain is imaging tests. Depending on what the doctor suspects is the cause, there are a number of potential scans:

  • X-ray: using electromagnetic radiation to get an image of the hip. It’s useful for looking at how the hip joint is aligned, whether there is too much space between the joints, and whether there are any issues with bone structure.
  • CT scan: similar to an X-ray but a CT scan produces images of soft tissue, so it’s more commonly used than an X-ray. 
  • MRI scan: uses magnetic fields and radio waves. It’s more useful for diagnosing issues with cartilage and tendons around the hip.

If these tests are not conclusive, or a doctor suspects an infection, a blood test may be necessary. A high level of rheumatoid factor would indicate that rheumatoid arthritis is present. Similarly, a high level of antibodies may suggest the presence of an inflammatory disease.

If you are concerned about hip pain, you can contact one of our GPhC-registered clinicians through our video consultation service. They can provide advice, prescriptions for treatment, and referral to specialists, where appropriate. You can book an appointment with them between 9.30am-4.30pm, five days a week. 

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Types of Treatment

What you can do to help hip pain

If you experience pain in your hip, you should consult a doctor, but there are also lifestyle adjustments you can make at home to help.

It may help to lose some weight if it’s putting pressure on your hip, but you should avoid doing any activities that can make the pain worse, such as running downhill. You should also try to wear comfortable footwear and not stand up for long periods of time to reduce stress on the hip.

It may be beneficial to see a physiotherapist for some exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles surrounding the hip. Further treatment options are over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Over exercising can lead to hip pain; in which case, you should try to establish a more comfortable regime. Low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling can ease the burden on the hip, and you may want to incorporate them into your fitness. If you like to run, try to run on smoother surfaces and wear appropriate footwear.

How is hip pain treated?

Treatment for hip pain may consist of lifestyle adjustments, medication and surgery. 

Corticosteroids are a type of anti-inflammatory. They can be used against autoimmune conditions that affect the hip, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the hip if the inflammation is localised there.

You may also be given analgesics for arthritis. They can relieve pain, but do not target the inflammation, unlike non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are a good alternative for people who can’t take NSAIDs. 

Another type of medication that you may be prescribed is called bisphosphonates, which can be used to treat osteoporosis. They are designed to help rebuild new bone that has been lost. They aren’t prescribed specifically for hip pain, but will help the hip bones to be less prone to fracture. 

If medications and self-help treatments do not work, you may have to have hip surgery, the most common of which is total hip replacement. This involves removing the hip and replacing it with a metal prosthetic. It’s usually necessary when the damage to the joint is too severe for it to be repaired, and the pain is too much to endure.

For younger people, and those wishing to stay active, hip resurfacing is a good alternative to total hip replacement. It involves reshaping the damaged section and fitting a metal covering over it that will slot into the hip socket. 

Pain in the hip can be a potentially serious condition, and you should aim to see a doctor if it causes you discomfort. However, if it isn’t feasible, our GPhC-registered clinicians are available to speak to you via our online video consultation service. You can book a consultation with them between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How long is it normal to have hip pain for?

It depends on the cause. Most conditions associated with hip pain are not curable, such as arthritis and osteoporosis.

However, they can be managed effectively with the right treatment, and if a condition causing hip pain is diagnosed early, the pain can largely be alleviated in many cases. 

Is hip pain serious?

The severity of the hip pain and potential accompanying symptoms serve as a good indicator as to its seriousness.

If it’s stopping you from being able to walk or is accompanied by indications of an infection, or if it was caused by an accident, you should seek medical attention urgently. 

Can I get treatment for hip pain?

In many cases, you will be able to get treatment for hip pain over-the-counter in the form of NSAIDs, but corticosteroids require a prescription.

If the pain is very severe, a hip replacement via surgery or adjustments to the hip may reduce discomfort.

How can I prevent hip pain?

Hip pain related to arthritis is difficult to prevent as it’s often a result of ageing, where wear and tear on the joints causes inflammation.

However, it is possible to take some preventative measures to reduce the risks of hip pain. For example, not over exercising and keeping the muscles around the hip in good condition.

Can I speak to a doctor about back pain?

You can speak to one of our GPhC-registered clinicians about hip pain via our online video consultation service. They can provide input on how to manage the pain, treatment options, and provide prescriptions and referral to specialists where suitable. Our clinicians are available for consultation between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020

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