We think of hip surgery as something that happens after 70, often following a fall, but more women in their fifties and even forties are having hip replacement surgery, or a less-invasive hip resurfacing operation.
Overdoing high-impact exercise and being overweight are some causes; but osteoarthritis – when cartilage lining the joints is damaged, so bones rub together – is still the most common problem.
Whatever the reason, the development of smaller, longer-lasting prosthetic joints means surgeons are offering them to younger patients. So what to do to stay joint healthy and pain-free?
Tips for healthy hips
Build strong muscles
Learn the right exercises to stretch, strengthen and stabilise the structures that support your hips. International organisation Arthritis Research UK has a handy information booklet on hip pain, including exercises to ease it. Download it at bit.ly/2nL5IJK
Watch your weight
Research suggests that losing just 10 percent of your body weight – with the addition of appropriate exercise – can lead to significant osteoarthritis symptom relief.
Reduce impact when exercising by investing in a pair of highly-cushioned trainers made for runners – they’ll help protect your knee and hip joints.
Move your hips
To keep the articular cartilage that protects your hip bones healthy and well fed with synovial fluid, you need to move regularly, says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Robert Klapper, co-author of Heal Your Hips (Wiley).
“Articular cartilage doesn’t have its own blood supply – it’s nourished by synovial fluid. Picture a spongy mop soaking up water, then being wrung out.”
When the hip joint is at rest, the spongy material made up of cartilage soaks up synovial fluid. When you put pressure on that hip joint by taking a step, the fluid is squeezed out. This process, he says, lubricates cartilage cells and nourishes them.
If you have hip problems, it can be tempting to move less, but this only starts a downward spiral of pain, warns Dr Klapper. Exercising in water can be the best pain-reducing treatment as it will strengthen the muscles without putting pressure on joints.
Cycling or using a cross-trainer will also help avoid excessive joint pressure, and Pilates and yoga can aid hip flexibility. A chiropractor can identify muscle imbalances and the resulting abnormal movements you may be making to compensate for hip pain.
How healthy are your hips?
Heed the signs that may indicate a worn hip joint, including difficulty putting on socks, especially if one foot is harder to reach than the other, says Dr Wilhelm Wagner, an orthopaedic surgeon.
“Pain during or after exercise, or that hinders daily activities, could be a sign of hip arthritis,” he adds. “Pain is usually localised between your hip and knee.”
Take the one-leg test. “If you can’t stand on your problem leg for more than a minute, even holding onto a door frame for balance, you might have a badly damaged hip.”