Though they’re absolutely critical for flexibility and mobility, we take our hips for granted. Perhaps you won’t any longer once you read this.
The hips, ball-and-socket mechanisms that connect the pelvic and femur bones, are the major weight-bearing joints of the body. In a normal, healthy hip, the bones are perfectly formed and there is plenty of cartilage covering the ball. Problems with our hips usually stem from injury or the effects of aging.
Age can bring on two hip-related problems: osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Osteoarthritis, the result of the cartilage between bones in the joints softening and deteriorating, is “damage to the joint,” and osteoporosis, caused by an imbalance between the rates of bone formation and bone breakdown, is “damage to the bone,” explains William Walsh, MD, an orthopedist at New York Medical College. When osteoarthritis sets in, cartilage can all but disappear, until bone is rubbing against bone within the hip, which can be very painful. Osteoporosis, whereby existing bone cells are being absorbed into the body faster than new ones are being made, can occur at any age but is particularly prevalent in post-menopausal women due to loss of estrogen. As the bones in the hip lose their density, they lose their strength and become less supportive, which in turn weakens the joint. This fragility of the hips can lead to fractures happening more easily.
Common Hip Injuries and Their Treatments
The hips also can be damaged by injuries, most often a fall. The fracture caused by a fall usually occurs just below the ball joint, or even lower in the hip. Such fractures almost always need surgery, and many times result in hip replacement. So-called micro injuries are common hip problems that people may not pay much attention to, according to Steven Zelicof, MD, an orthopedist at New York Medical College. However, occurrences such as falling off of a bike or being tackled, can damage the hip and over time result in osteoarthritis or a lack of hip mobility.
Dislocation, which, says Dr. Walsh, occurs when the hip is hit by “considerable force”—say, during contact sports or a car accident—is dangerous, because the blood supply to the hip is disrupted, which could cause the hip to collapse. Surgical intervention usually is needed.
Another notable hip injury is a labral tear, which can be caused by a trauma or just age. The labrum, a type of cartilage that surrounds the bone part of the ball and socket joints, helps to provide stability to the joint and allows for flexibility and motion. Simple treatments such as rest, physical therapy, or medication may be used if the tear is not severe, but sometimes a hip arthroscopy procedure is required to fix the tear.
Healthy Hips and Prevention of Problems
While aging brings about a degree of hip deterioration, there are simple exercises and lifestyle changes that can help ensure the longevity of one’s hips. Healthy hips “start with proper exercise and diet,” says Dr. Zelicof.
Having excess weight is “the same as constantly carrying around a backpack,” says Dr. Zelicof. Excess weight can put pressure on the hips that can damage bones and joints. Maintaining a healthy weight will benefit your hips’ health. So will consuming lots of calcium. Dr. Zelicof suggests 1,000 to 1,500 mg of daily.