Living with chronic hip pain can be a troubling and difficult experience. A painful hip can disrupt your daily activities and make it hard to do the things you enjoy pain-free. Osteoarthritis is the most frequent cause of hip pain. It is an especially common and frustrating problem in older adults and leads to inflammation of the hip joint and the breakdown of cartilage. You can also develop hip pain from strains or inflammation of the tendons, ligaments, or muscles. If you have hip pain, make sure you know what’s causing it by getting it checked out by a healthcare provider.
When hip pain becomes chronic, it’s often due to arthritis. About one-third of people over age 65 have osteoarthritis of the hip joint, which causes varying degrees of pain and stiffness. The exact cause of hip pain is often unknown but it’s usually caused by degeneration in the ball or cup (femoral head) portion of your hip joint. This type of wear and tear can happen over time from several factors including:
- Injuries that injure the cartilage or ligaments around the joint
- Obesity and/or inactivity
- Anatomical problems with the hip joint
- Being overweight
If you have arthritis involving your hip, you may feel pain in your groin area or along the front side of your thigh–but you could also feel it deep inside your lower back. Now, let’s look at some ways to relieve hip pain.
Heat and ice
One way to manage pain and inflammation, including hip discomfort due to an acute strain, is to apply ice. Cold is most effective when used shortly after the pain begins but you can apply it after activity or exercise to reduce swelling. An easy way to do this is to place ice or bags of frozen vegetables on the hip.
Heat, like a hot water bottle, is also useful for relieving pain and reducing stiffness. For example, heat can reduce stiffness so it’s easier to stretch. Applying a heat or hot water bottle several times a day for 15 minutes at a time is an effective strategy for calming hip stiffness and discomfort.
Use natural forms of pain relief
Some doctors prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, to relieve pain and inflammation. Although they can be effective, they may also have serious side effects. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can irritate the lining of your stomach and cause bleeding.
Instead, use natural approaches to reduce pain and inflammation. For example, choose more anti-inflammatory foods like nuts, fatty fish, fruits, and vegetables, and limit refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods that can fuel inflammation. These are components of the Mediterranean diet.
According to Dr. Fred Tabung, at T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, most chronic pain is associated with inflammation and an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean approach to eating, helps reduce inflammation.
If you’re overweight, losing weight can help reduce the stress on your hip joint and improve your overall health. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of body weight can help decrease pain and improve your mobility if you have osteoarthritis of the hip. Carrying excess body weight creates a pro-inflammatory state that worsens hip pain. Plus, excess weight places more stress on all the joints in your body, especially your knee and hip joints.
Strength Training or Physical Therapy
Strength training can improve hip arthritis by shifting some of the stress on the hip joint onto the surrounding muscles, as they become thicker and stronger. Plus, it helps alleviate joint stiffness and improve functionality. Avoid exercises that involve high-impact activities or that require you to bear weight on the affected hip, such as running, jumping, or squats. Listen to your body and don’t do movements that cause hip pain.
It’s a smart idea to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or an exercise specialist, before starting a strength training program. They can assess your condition and help you develop a safe and effective workout plan.
Physical therapy is another option that can help with hip pain. A physical therapist can help you get back to normal activities with less pain and stiffness. They will collaborate with you to determine what’s causing their hip pain, then develop an exercise regimen that targets those areas. Exercises may include stretching, strengthening, balance training, and gait retraining, all of which you can do at home or in a gym if necessary. Physical therapy can help improve flexibility, strength, and range of motion in the hip joint.
Hip replacement surgery
Hip joints are important body parts. They allow you to stand upright, walk, run, and perform many other activities that people take for granted every day. It’s no surprise that hip pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor.
Most hip pain will improve with conservative measures like weight loss or physical therapy, but some cases of severe hip pain may not resolve and may benefit from surgery. Hip replacement surgery has become increasingly popular in recent years. Why? It’s effective for relieving pain and restoring mobility from severe joint deterioration due to causes such as trauma or arthritis.
After surgery, a physical therapist will teach you how to best move around with crutches until your muscles get strong enough to not require them anymore. This typically takes anywhere from three weeks to six months depending on factors including age and weight.
In some cases, hip resurfacing (hip resurfacing arthroplasty) may be a better option. It’s a surgical procedure that involves removing the damaged surface of the hip joint and replacing it with a metal cap. This procedure retains more of the femur, or leg bone, and may be an option if you’re not a candidate for a total hip replacement.
Some newer treatments for hip arthritis include:
- Injections of adenosine into the joint (still in testing stages)
- Radiofrequency ablation
- Steroid injections (this has been around for a while but carries some risks)
These are all treatments to discuss with your healthcare provider if you have chronic hip arthritis that doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes.
Hip pain is never fun to deal with, but there are ways to alleviate the discomfort. It’s important to know the cause of your pain and seek professional help. While you may not be able to avoid all hip pain, there are things you can do at home (like applying ice and heat). You can also work on mobility exercises with a physical therapist and continue those exercises at home.
- “Hip Pain: Causes, Treatments, and When to Seek Help.” 27 Aug. 2019, healthline.com/health/hip-pain.
- “Hip Arthritis | Johns Hopkins Medicine.” hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hip-arthritis.
- “Arthritis Risk Factors | CDC.” cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/risk-factors.htm.
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- Can diet heal chronic pain? – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Published July 2018. Accessed December 29, 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/can-diet-heal-chronic-pain
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