Hip Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment, and Exercises for Pain Relief

Learn about hip arthritis and possible causes. Get tips to manage pain from hip arthritis and simple exercises from physical therapists to feel better.

Published Date: May 17, 2023

Hip Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment, and Exercises for Pain Relief

Learn about hip arthritis and possible causes. Get tips to manage pain from hip arthritis and simple exercises from physical therapists to feel better.

Published Date: May 17, 2023

Hip Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment, and Exercises for Pain Relief

Learn about hip arthritis and possible causes. Get tips to manage pain from hip arthritis and simple exercises from physical therapists to feel better.

Published Date: May 17, 2023

Hip Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment, and Exercises for Pain Relief

Learn about hip arthritis and possible causes. Get tips to manage pain from hip arthritis and simple exercises from physical therapists to feel better.

Published Date: May 17, 2023
Table of Contents

If you’re hip to, well, hip pain, you’re in good company. It’s a common problem and arthritis — a condition that affects joints — may play a role. In fact, as a major weight-bearing joint, the hip is one of the joints most commonly affected by arthritis. 

There are different forms of hip arthritis, but the most common is osteoarthritis (OA). (Rheumatoid arthritis, the next most common form, affects about one-tenth as many people as osteoarthritis.) Like other types of arthritis, OA can impact a lot of daily activities, including climbing stairs, tying your shoes, and more. While frustrating and, at times, discouraging, know that there are a lot of ways you can manage and prevent symptoms of arthritis so that it interferes less with you being able to do what you love. 

Here, learn more about hip arthritis — what it feels like, what causes it, how it’s treated, and which exercises our Hinge Health physical therapists recommend to keep your hip joints healthy and pain-free. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Shaw is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified sports clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Hip Arthritis: A Hinge Health Perspective

Take a minute right now and send some gratitude and love to your hips: They are super important in all your daily activities. “Besides helping to bear your weight, the ball-and-socket construction of the hip allows for a lot of movement — abduction, adduction, rotation, flexion, and extension,” says Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. These are fancy words that basically mean you can move your hips in a lot of different directions. Your hips help you move your legs apart to do activities like jumping jacks, extend your legs straight back, or point your toes inward and move the entire leg in that direction. By comparison, the knee, a hinge joint, provides primarily flexion (bending) and extension (straightening). 

If hip arthritis occurs and it contributes to hip pain, it’s a natural instinct to stop moving. Many people are under the false impression that movement can make your arthritis worse. “The amount of stress you’d have to put on a joint — even an arthritic joint — to make it worse is astronomical,” assures Dr. Shaw. “You can keep up with your normal activities and be confident that you’re not going to do anything detrimental to your hip.” 

In fact, arthritis can actually become worse with too much rest. Your joints, which make your skeleton flexible, are designed to move. 

Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT
Movement acts like lubrication. It’s important to help maintain your mobility in the joint and reduce pain and discomfort.

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What Is Hip Arthritis?

Hip arthritis is a condition that results in changes to the hip’s cartilage — the strong, slippery material that provides a buffer between the head of the femur (the top ball of your thigh bone) and the rounded socket of the pelvic bone. It’s what helps your hip joint move smoothly during everyday activities. Everyone experiences changes in their cartilage over their lifetime. For some people, it wears down and reduces the amount of space between bones. 

Even with changes to the hip’s cartilage, not everyone experiences symptoms. Some people do, however, experience pain — especially with certain movements — along with stiffness and swelling. (It’s worth noting that in these cases, arthritis is usually one of many factors at play, along with things like muscle weakness and other health factors.) Some notice grinding, clicking, or popping sounds (known as crepitus), or the sensation of the hip “locking” or “catching” during movement.

In some cases, the pain may appear in different areas, such as the thigh, buttocks, groin, and knee. “The femur connection to the pelvis is more toward the midline of the body, which is why you might feel it more toward the crease in the groin area,” says Dr. Shaw. However, a lot of times, it hits the lower back first, says Dr. Shaw. “Your hips need to rotate to walk forward, and if you lack that motion, your back may come into play, and you’ll feel increased tension in the lower back.”

Types of Hip Arthritis

There are a few types of arthritis that most commonly affect the hip joint:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It results from many different potential causes and can be thought of as wearing of the cartilage that coats the joint. 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation. In the case of hip arthritis, RA triggers inflammation of the capsule surrounding the hip joint, causing the release of substances that affect the cartilage over time. 

  • Psoriatic arthritis is another type of inflammatory arthritis that commonly develops in people with psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition. It can also cause inflammation in the joints. 

  • Post-traumatic hip arthritis results from injury or trauma to the hip, such as a hip fracture. Arthritis can sometimes occur years after an injury. 

Although there’s no cure for arthritis, there are always ways you can treat your symptoms so you feel better and slow the progression of arthritis.   

A Note on Common Contributors to Hip Arthritis

When you read about hip arthritis, you'll often find age-related changes, weight, and genetics (e.g., being female) listed as common causes. But that does not mean you’re destined to suffer from arthritis pain because of things you can’t control. As you get older, regardless of your weight, sex, or genetics, staying active can have a huge impact on keeping your hips healthy and reducing pain. 

Treatments for Hip Arthritis Symptoms

Depending on the type, hip arthritis may be managed in different ways. The first line of treatment includes noninvasive, nonsurgical options like: 

  • Over-the-counter medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for hip pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

  • Eat the rainbow. Incorporating plenty of whole foods — particularly anti-inflammatory foods — into your diet can help reduce pain. Try to focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like wild-caught salmon and olive oil. By eating plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods, you can simultaneously crowd out less nutrient-dense and inflammatory foods from your diet. 

  • Ice and heat therapy. “Both ice and heat have their benefits,” says Dr. Shaw. She recommends using heat on your hip before doing an activity to increase blood flow and improve flexibility. Afterward, apply ice. “It will decrease inflammation and numb any pain,” she says.

  • Physical therapy. “PT is going to target many of the issues associated with hip arthritis,” says Dr. Shaw. For example, it can ease joint swelling and pain (the increased blood flow helps remove pain-causing chemicals from the body), strengthen the muscles that support your hip (and take some of the load off the weaker joint), and improve mobility. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

  • Assistive devices. Many people resist using assistive devices because they don't want to feel old or less able-bodied. “Using devices like a cane or walker can be really helpful for some people,” says Dr. Shaw, and they can make a big difference during activities that cause you more pain or discomfort. Just be sure to work with your healthcare team to make sure your device is sized properly and you’re using it correctly.

When to See a Doctor

Hip arthritis can usually be managed at home with movement and other conservative measures. If joint symptoms are causing you concern — for instance, they begin to interfere with your ability to go about your daily activities and at-home treatments are not effective — it might help to see your doctor. They may be able to further tailor your treatment plan to your needs or, in some cases, discuss whether you’re a good candidate for surgery.

Top Hip Arthritis Exercises

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • External Hip Rotation
  • Seated Clamshell
  • Hip Flexor Stretch
  • Sit-to-Stand

Above all else, movement is one of the best ways you can take care of your hips. Those exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists stretch and strengthen the muscles around your hip joint to help keep them strong and mobile with age. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Find Your Movement Sweet Spot

When it comes to managing hip pain, too little activity isn’t good, but it is possible to do too much at times. Your movement sweet spot is the happy medium. It’s the right type and amount of movement that challenges your body and pushes it to get stronger without overdoing it and causing a major pain flare that sets you back. 

“Everyone’s sweet spot is different, and your body will let you know if you push past it,” says Dr. Shaw. It’s okay to nudge into pain, but a pain uptick that lasts more than 24 hours or disrupts your daily life, including your sleep, indicates that you may have pushed past your movement sweet spot. If you need help finding your sweet spot, a physical therapist can help. They’re trained to help you navigate your pain and determine which movements are safe and effective in improving your quality of life.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  2. Kolasinski, S. L., Neogi, T., Hochberg, M. C., Oatis, C., Guyatt, G., Block, J., Callahan, L., Copenhaver, C., Dodge, C., Felson, D., Gellar, K., Harvey, W. F., Hawker, G., Herzig, E., Kwoh, C. K., Nelson, A. E., Samuels, J., Scanzello, C., White, D., & Wise, B. (2020). 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee. Arthritis & Rheumatology, 72(2), 220–233. doi:10.1002/art.41142

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