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Hip pain is a common problem for many adults, and 12-15% of people over age 60 experience problems regularly. However, these numbers jump to 30-40% in active adults who play sports. With this many people living with hip pain, it’s no wonder that doctors do more than 450,000 total hip replacements each year in the United States.

One of the main reasons hip replacements are so common is the joint’s unique anatomy and the abuse it takes daily as one of the largest weight-bearing joints in your body.

Thomas Calton, MD, has been practicing orthopedic surgery for more than 30 years at Utah Orthopedics, his modern, world-class medical facility in the heart of Ogden, Utah, Dr. Calton relies on minimally invasive, cutting edge techniques to perform hip and knee replacements. He offers these insights on why hip problems can occur and how to help keep your hip joints healthy.

The hip joint has many parts

Your hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint that connects your leg to your pelvis. The pelvic section forms the socket, and it has three parts that fuse together to form the socket:

  • The ilium: wide, flaring portion on the top
  • The ischium: lower, rear portion
  • The pubis: lower, front portion

The thigh bone in the top half your leg, known as the femur, is the longest and heaviest bone in your body. At its very top is the femoral neck that ends in a ball shape — or the femoral head.

The femoral head (ball) sits tightly inside the pelvic socket. Each of these bony structures has a protective coating of tough, smooth tissue called articular cartilage, and it enables these structures to glide smoothly against each other when you move.

The hip joint has many supporting structures

There’s more to your hip joint than bones and articular cartilage. It also contains several soft tissue structures that hold it securely in place and provide stability.

The socket itself has a ring of cartilage known as the acetabular labrum. This tissue creates an even deeper socket for the femoral head to keep it from slipping out of position, and it also functions as a shock absorber.

There are also several ligaments. Inside the joint, a ligament anchors your femoral head to the socket. On the outside, three large femoral ligaments wrap around the entire structure, holding the entire joint firmly in place. In addition to these ligaments, you also have several tendons that connect muscles to bones in the area, and they help provide even more strength, structure, and flexibility to your hip joint.

To finish things off is a synovial membrane and fluid. This viscous fluid circulates nutrients and lubricates the joint, keeping it healthy and reducing friction.

The complexity of the hip joint makes it vulnerable

This unique anatomy makes it possible for your hip to bear your weight and still manage a wide range of movement. Unfortunately, this complexity can also make the hip joint vulnerable to pain and injury. In most cases, the leading cause of hip pain is arthritis, including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Traumatic arthritis from a fracture injury

Each of these conditions causes tissue degeneration in the hip, especially cartilage degeneration. Without cartilage, your bones rub together, which can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Taking action for healthier hips

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your hips and reduce your chances of needing joint replacement surgery in the future.

Most importantly, Dr. Calton recommends reducing unnecessary strain on your hips by maintaining a healthy weight. The average force you put on your joints can be six times your weight. So, even if you’re only 10 pounds overweight, you can still add 30-60 pounds of pressure to every step you take. But, losing as little as 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your joint health.

Next, start doing exercises that strengthen the muscles that support your hips. Exercises that can support hip health include:

  • Hip squeezes
  • Straight and side leg lifts
  • Hip rotation stretches
  • Ball bridges
  • Hip hikers

Finally, keep your muscles flexible with regular stretching.

Weight loss and exercise may not restore lost cartilage or tissue damage, but they can significantly change how you feel by reducing the shock your hip joints have to absorb on a daily basis.

If you have hip pain or think you need joint replacement surgery, Dr. Calton can give you a thorough evaluation and go over your treatment options. To learn more, book an appointment over the phone with Utah Orthopedics today.

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