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Hip stiffness and discomfort is commonly caused by hip arthritis and usually starts in middle age.
People with a history of sports injuries can be prone to hip pain, although general wear and tear as a result of sports or work is responsible for most cases of hip arthritis, or osteoarthritis of the hip.
It is caused by damage to the hyaline cartilage, which covers of the surfaces of the hip ball and socket joint. In severe cases, this can lead to bone rubbing on bone rather than being protected by smooth friction-free cartilage. This can cause small cracks to appear, which the body then tries to repair by creating more bone. Cysts can also form in the bone beneath the surface of the joint and its surfaces may flatten as the body tries to create a larger surface area to cope with natural forces. These cartilage and bone changes can then lead to the ligaments supporting the joint and the capsule around it becoming stretched.
Hip pain is the main symptom of the condition, being felt in the groin and sometimes up into the back and down the thigh. Sufferers may start to limp as the arthritis gets worse and muscles start to waste. Weakness in the gluteal muscles causes the hip to drop with each step, creating what is called a Trendelenburg Gait.
The condition is likely to worsen over time but this does not usually happen in a regular fashion. Instead, sufferers can experience periodic flare-ups, which become increasingly frequent and more intense. The time period between these episodes will shorten until a person has pain all the time, when resting.
Hip arthritis can be diagnosed with an X-ray that will show if there has been a loss of the joint space in between a pair of bones. Once the condition has been confirmed, there are things you can do during flare ups to minimise hip pain and reduce swelling. These can include taking anti-inflammatory drugs and applying an ice pack for 20-minute periods every two hours.
It is a strange factor of the condition that when it first starts, rest is needed to alleviate the symptoms. In its more advanced stages, however, immobility can actually make the problem worse. This is because the muscles start to waste, meaning that they are providing less stability to the joint. In turn, this increases ligament strain and can cause more pressure on the joint surfaces and more pain.
In very severe cases, a hip replacement operation or surgery to re-surface the joint may be necessary but there are other options before this is required. Try to exercise frequently in order to maintain muscle strength. Invest in a buoyancy belt and try swimming pool exercises, where the water and the belt support your body. Resistance bands are another good option for strengthening muscles. If surgery is necessary, consider wearing compression shorts afterwards. These will reduce vibrations and muscle movements. Thermal shorts and wraps can also be useful in alleviating hip pain.