The healthy hip operates as a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is at the top of the thighbone (femur), and the socket (acetabulum) sits in the hipbone (pelvis). The ball and socket are each covered with cartilage that lubricates and cushions the bones during movement. This connection allows the hips and legs a wide range of motion and flexibility.
Because your hips carry your body weight, they are at risk for osteoarthritis, a disease that wears and tears at the healthy cartilage covering the hip socket. About 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hip. The elderly and obese are at greatest risk for the disease; those who have experienced a stress injury to the hip are at risk as well. Once cartilage is destroyed, it cannot be replaced.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include discomfort and stiffness in the groin, buttock and thigh area and decreased range of movement. Symptoms will worsen if not addressed early on. In some cases, the cartilage may wear away completely. When this happens, the bones rub directly against each other making it extremely painful to move. As a result, you may choose to limit your physical activity to avoid pain which will weaken the muscles controlling your joints. It is important to make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible if you develop any symptoms of osteoarthritis.