Hip replacements - essential facts and common causes

The good news is we're living longer than ever. The bad news is that our joints - especially our hips - haven't kept up. The combination of wear and tear with ageing, along with increasing strain from being overweight, mean more of us than ever are suffering.

What are the common causes of hip pain?

The most common reason for hip pain is osteoarthritis - sometimes called 'wear and repair' arthritis. Our joints don't stay the same in adulthood - in fact, our bodies are constantly repairing minor wear and tear. Unfortunately, as time goes on, the repair bit can fail to keep up with the wear - especially if you put too much pressure on your joints.

The joints in your body that take the most strain are especially vulnerable to wearing out - hips, knees and lower spine as well as the small joints of your hands. Being overweight is a risk factor, as are trauma (including major accidents) and contact sports or occupation. Women are more likely to suffer osteoarthritis than men, and it can run in families.

Why are more of us having hip surgery?

Fortunately, doctors (or more specifically orthopaedic surgeons) are on the case. While there's much that can be done to protect your joints, sometimes surgery is the only option. And the outcomes are better than ever.

A review earlier in 2016 from Nuffield health showed a 75% increase in the number of men under 55 and nearly a 70% rise among women under 55 having hip replacements compared to 10 years ago. Knee replacements among younger people have also gone up over the same period, but to a lesser degree - 40% for men and 20% for women.

There are lots of reasons for this shift. Firstly, surgeons used to recommend putting off hip replacement because the average replacement hip was likely to wear out within a decade. Because replacing a replacement is more complicated and often less successful, they wanted the new one to last a lifetime if possible. Today, advances in both the artificial joints and replacement techniques mean that with care, a new hip can last up to 20 years.

Secondly, 60 is the new 50. There are lots of downsides of the constant media pressure to 'stay young', but it does mean that people in their 50s and 60s still feel in the prime of life and want to stay active. They're not prepared to settle for hobbling round slowly after their grandkids. That means they see a joint replacement more as a new lease of life than as a sign of being decrepit - only one in four people having a hip replacement says the surgery makes them feel old. Following hip replacement, you'll usually be off crutches in four to six weeks and doing light work by six. Getting up and moving about will cut the risk of complications, like a clot on the leg, after hip replacement surgery.

Even if surgery is necessary, it doesn't always need to involve replacing the whole joint. Hip resurfacing may be an option, particularly for younger people. It's not suitable for everyone because you need strong bones. With this alternative, the surface of the ball and socket that make up your hip joint are covered with metal covers.

While hip replacement involves major surgery and takes a while to recover from, the pain caused by your arthritis should be gone straight away. Doing the right kind of regular exercises is essential to getting you quickly back on the road to recovery.

Other treatments for osteoarthritis

Not everyone with hip osteoarthritis needs a replacement joint. It's usually only offered if you have pain at rest, which can't be controlled with painkillers and lifestyle. Exercise is absolutely key to reducing progression of symptoms, and the right exercises can actively help relieve your symptoms and reduce the chance of pain and stiffness progressing.

Aerobic exercise - the kind that makes you mildly out of breath - helps to strengthen the muscles around your joints. Clearly you don't want to damage your joints more, so good shoes with supportive cushioned insoles are a must. Low impact exercise - walking, cycling, swimming - are perfect to maximise strengthening and flexibility.

Painkillers include paracetamol and topical anti-inflammatory gels or rubs such as ibuprofen. Anti-inflammatories in tablet form can be very effective, but can have side effects including inflammation of the stomach lining and kidney damage. Stronger painkillers can also cause side effects such as constipation, so you may need to take medicine to counteract this

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.