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The Perils of Leaving Hip Problems Unaddressed

Last updated: December 7, 2022

No pain, no gain. Push through the pain. For many of us, the ability to withstand discomfort is a point of pride. But pain that’s left unaddressed can worsen and keep you from participating in the activities you love.

One common cause of hip pain is osteoarthritis. This condition is defined as loss of or damage to cartilage, the tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints.

Any time that cartilage gets some wear and tear on it, some damage, some thinning, that’s what arthritis is. Osteoarthritis is associated with age-related wear and tear.

Dr. David Hirschi, Sports Medicine Physician, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

Osteoarthritis: A Common Condition

“Any time that cartilage gets some wear and tear on it, some damage, some thinning, that’s what arthritis is. Osteoarthritis is associated with age-related wear and tear,” says Dr. David Hirschi, a Sports Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.

Osteoarthritis is common, and almost everyone who lives a long life will develop the condition to some degree, Dr. Hirschi says.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip include:

  • Function-limiting hip pain — often dull and achy
  • Discomfort that arises from walking long distances and standing for long periods
  • Pain at night or rest
  • Activity-induced swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Feeling of the hip “giving way” or “buckling”

These symptoms typically stem from a lack of cartilage. This results in irritation as the bones bump against one another.

“As we do our activities of the day, it can get inflamed,” Dr. Hirschi says. “Then that joint gets irritated. That swelling inside the joint is typically what’s causing most of the symptoms.”

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose hip osteoarthritis, the provider will go over your history, conduct a physical exam, and order an X-ray. The X-ray can show a narrowing of the joint space, thickening of underlying bone, and development of osteophytes — often called burn spurs. An MRI is rarely needed for diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis, it’s about treating the symptoms, not about curing osteoarthritis, which isn’t possible, Dr. Hirschi says. “What we’re doing is helping you manage the symptoms so that your quality of your life is great or good.”

Many treatments are available and can include:

  • Home exercise program
  • Physical therapy
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Injections
  • Interventional pain management procedures
  • Surgery

Interventional Pain Mangement Options

Dr. Christina Brooks, a Pain Management Physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care, says she and her colleagues offer interventional pain management procedures for people who aren’t surgery candidates. These can include those who are on blood thinners, as well as people who have had a heart attack or have an elevated A1C. Pain management specialists can also work with people who don’t want surgery or who wish to delay it as long as possible.

Interventional pain management procedures include:

  • Bursa or intra-articular steroid injections
  • Sacroiliac joint steroid injections
  • Articular branch radiofrequency ablation
  • Peripheral nerve stimulation
  • Spinal cord stimulator
  • Dorsal root ganglion stimulator

The goal of these treatments and procedures is to improve functionality, Dr. Brooks says. They can allow you to better tolerate physical therapy, walk for greater distances, and get back to doing everyday tasks like standing at the sink and doing dishes.

“[Everyday tasks] are things that people without chronic hip pain wouldn’t even pay attention to, but anyone with chronic pain knows it can be debilitating. It might not only affect the person but also their family and their caregivers.

Dr. Christina Brooks, Pain Management Physician, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

“These are the things that people without chronic hip pain wouldn’t even pay attention to, but anyone with chronic pain knows it can be debilitating. It might not only affect the person but also their family and their caregivers,” Dr. Brooks says.

Surgical Care

If you’ve exhausted all your other options, have daily functional limitations, and are seeing your quality of life decline, you may want to consider hip replacement surgery, says Dr. Michael Ziegele, an Orthopedic Surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.

Across all medicine, not just orthopedics, hip replacements are one of the most successful surgeries in terms of patient satisfaction and complication rate.

Dr. Michael Ziegele, Orthopedic Surgeon, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

“For those folks who have tried a lot of the non-operative measures, hip replacement is a great option,” Dr. Ziegele says. “Across all medicine, not just orthopedics, hip replacements are one of the most successful surgeries in terms of patient satisfaction and complication rate.”

Osteoarthritis is the most common condition that leads to hip replacement surgery. The procedure can restore the ability to move your hip without pain.

Most people who have the surgery go home the same night. Individuals often use a cane or walker for stability and support at the beginning of their recovery process and then can stop using it altogether. They’ll also do an exercise program either at home or through physical therapy at the surgery center or hospital.

A typical progression for people is to turn the corner at two weeks, to feel good after six weeks, and to feel great at the 12-week mark, Dr. Ziegele says.

People often come to Dr. Ziegele when their pain is stopping them. His goal is to get them back to doing what they love.

“Obviously, this is a major surgery and it takes some time to recover. My ultimate goal is to get you feeling better than you were before surgery and back to doing the things you want to do,” he says. “This really can be a life-changing surgery for the right patient.”

Hip pain stopping you?

Tags: Dr. Christina Brooks Dr. David Hirschi Dr. Michael Ziegele Hip Pain hip replacement orthopedics Pain Management sports medicine

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