Chronic hip pain often starts as a vague discomfort, more annoying than it is painful. Because of that, it is sometimes simply ignored.
But as time goes on, the pain may escalate from annoying to disabling. Many patients will try to ease the pain with medication, rest, massage or by quitting their favorite activities altogether. In some cases, particularly for younger patients, they've gone to see a physician and haven’t seen an improvement, received an accurate diagnosis or found the right treatment.
Physicians at the Penn Medicine Center for Hip Preservation found that in the '90s and early 2000s, young patients with hip pain were often told, “Nothing's really showing up on the X-ray. Do physical therapy, deal with the pain, and if you have more advanced changes in the hip in the future, you may be a candidate for hip replacement."
However, we now know that early intervention can stave off hip replacement.
The first step to identifying the cause and proper treatment for chronic hip pain may come before you’ve even entered the doctor's office. It’s having an honest conversation with yourself, especially if you believe the following myths:
Myth #1: "I’m too young to have hip pain."
When most people think of hip pain, they think of an adult over the age of 65 with arthritis or a hip fracture from a fall. However, many of our surgeons specialize in younger patients. This includes young adults, whose hip pain often comes from a traumatic injury such as a car accident or from an overuse injury from a demanding physical activity. One of the biggest wins we can have as orthopedic surgeons is to help these young patients prevent future hip joint damage.
Six Signs It's Time to See a Specialist About Hip Pain
- The pain has intensified over time.
- You’ve increasingly modified or limited activities but still feel pain.
- You hear snapping, popping, clicking or grinding with certain movements.
- Tendonitis and bursitis have been ruled out.
- You’re taking pain medications more frequently or in higher doses.
- You’ve developed a limp.
Myth #2: "It'll go away."
This is a myth that many middle-aged recreational athletes tell themselves when hip pain arises. It may be true, or it may be a way to avoid getting treatment.
To compensate for their hip pain, people with this mindset modify their activities by cutting back or playing with less intensity. Some take an entire season off from a sport they enjoy and switch to the elliptical or swimming. This can lead to a slow, subtle decline in physical ability.
Others try to self-medicate by focusing only on treating the symptoms of pain. They may try a host of oral pain medications, or seek alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture.
Some of these recovery methods might work temporarily, but they might not address the true, underlying problem. To work, these approaches must be part of a multi-modal strategy in conjunction with medical treatment.
Myth #3: "This will end my career."
This myth is a source of anxiety among high-performing athletes and dancers who fear that their hip pain signals a potentially career-threatening injury.
In their minds, addressing the hip pain may mean major surgery. So they only seek medical attention in the case of an acute injury.
However, hip preservation methods may be a better option. Many athletes and dancers have healthy joints and cartilage, but the pain may come from a structural issue, such as a labral tear, cartilage injury, tendon tear or bony impingement, such as a femoroacetabular impingement. This is a type of bony impingement in which a collision occurs between the femur bone and the hip socket rim during extremes in range of motion. It can result in damage within the hip joint itself.
If surgery is recommended, the goal is to get patients back to their preferred activity levels following a full recovery and appropriate, targeted rehabilitation.
Even if your chronic hip pain doesn’t require surgery, it’s important to diagnose the problem so that you and your medical team can target the right solutions and move forward in a way that positively affects your hip pain.