In my practice, we get a lot of questions about arthritis and hip arthroscopy.  Although arthritis is very common, it’s not really that well understood. The term “arthritis” refers to joint pain or joint disease, and there are more than 100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type, especially in the hip joint. Hip arthritis is characterized by the destruction of the cartilage between the ball and socket of the hip joint, leaving the two bones to rub against each other.  Osteoarthritis can lead to chronic pain including stiffness in the joint interfering with activities of daily living ranging from deep bending at the hip to light walking.

Arthritis and Hip Arthroscopy

Hip arthroscopy refers to a minimally invasive procedure involving small incisions into the hip area for insertion of a small camera to guide the surgeon as they use miniature surgical instruments to repair cartilage tears. This procedure offers a huge benefit by allowing a direct look to the inside of the joint for a better understanding of the extent and nature of the damage. A common myth surrounding hip arthroscopy is that it can cure hip arthritis. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Labral tears involve damage to another type of cartilage called the labrum. While we can routinely repair or reconstruct the labrum in hips where there is no, or very mild, arthritis, when moderate or severe arthritis is present, this cannot be treated by hip arthroscopy. If the arthritis is too advanced, then arthroscopy will not be helpful and may make the problem worse. In this case, the best and only surgical treatment is a hip replacement. This is why evaluation by a specialized hip surgeon is important. If you have been recommended for a hip replacement, you are most likely no longer a candidate for a hip arthroscopy.

If you don’t feel ready for a total hip replacement, there are some things you can do to try and avoid this surgery. Any low impact or light aerobic exercise is great for the joints. Swimming or walking are good examples, as well as avoiding deep bending. A cane may be used to help offset the weight on the affected hip. Losing excess body weight relieves hip pain by unloading the pressure to the hip.  A consultation with hip replacement specialist will also help to give you some ideas on how to prolong replacement surgery.

If you have hip pain, but have never seen a doctor and your pain is interfering with your quality of life you should certainly see a physician before making any assumptions as to what your pain means.