Arthritis is a common cause of hip stiffness and pain that gradually affects mobility and quality of life. Doing gentle hip exercises may help restore hip mobility, ease pain, and strengthen the hip.

Nearly 1 in 4 adults in the United States has arthritis. Around 8 million working-age adults report that their ability to work is limited because of their arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs as joints gradually break down due to wear and tear as a person ages.

While OA can appear in any joint, it commonly affects weight-bearing joints such as the hip.

Physical activity and exercise offer many benefits to people with hip OA. These include reducing joint pain, enhancing mobility, and lowering the risk of developing other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes.

This article discusses how arthritis affects the hips and the different stages of hip arthritis. It also explores the types of exercises people can perform, precautions they can take, and alternative remedies for pain relief.

Pain in the hips and knees is a primary feature of OA. Pain may also refer to the low back, thighs, and buttocks.

OA affects the cartilage, a protective layer of tissue cushioning bone ends.

When a person has OA, the cartilage thins and breaks down. This causes bones to rub against one another and bone spurs (osteophytes) to form. The breakdown of cartilage produces symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.

A person with OA in the hips may find that any movement of the hip joint, such as standing, sitting down, or walking, can cause difficulty or discomfort.

Hip arthritis is a progressive disease. This means it causes gradual damage to the hip joint. The progression or severity of hip arthritis can be grouped into three stages:

Early stage

During this stage, pain may be mild or nonexistent. If the latter, a person may not be aware that they have the condition. In mild cases, treatment focuses on preventing a worsening of symptoms, such as by avoiding high impact exercises.

Early-stage hip arthritis may cause pain and discomfort in the area, and bone spurs may occur. A bone spur is an irregular bone growth where two bones meet at a joint. Strengthening the muscles around the joints can help stabilize them.

Middle stage

During the middle stage of hip osteoarthritis, the cartilage between the hip bones begins to erode. Larger bone spurs form, and the joints become rougher. People will experience pain and swelling, and hip joints may create popping or snapping sounds.

Doctors will likely prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medication and recommend physical therapy.

End stage

This is the severe stage of hip osteoarthritis, which carries surgical indications. A person will experience chronic inflammation of the joints and pain and stiffness that disrupts daily life and sleep.

At this stage, doctors consider bone realignment surgery or total hip replacement.

The types of exercise that a person can perform to ease pain associated with hip arthritis include:

  • Low impact aerobic or endurance exercises: These can improve a person’s overall fitness and heart health. They can also help a person manage their weight. Examples include swimming and biking.
  • Strengthening exercises: These exercises aim to strengthen muscles to provide more support, stability, and protection to the joints. Examples include resistance and weight training.
  • Range of motion (ROM) and stretching exercises: These exercises aim to improve a person’s flexibility, allowing them to move their joints in a greater range. Learn more about simple stretches here.
  • Yoga: This is a form of strength training that also targets range of motion and flexibility.
  • Thai chi: This activity combines gentle exercise with stretching and mindfulness.
  • Other forms of physical activity: Any other activity that requires movement, such as gardening, mowing the lawn, and walking the dog, can offer joint benefits.

A person may opt to use exercise equipment for exercise. Recumbent bikes and ellipticals are low impact exercises that may benefit people with hip OA, especially those who find high impact activities uncomfortable.

While a person can use their own weight for strength training, they may use weights or exercise equipment to meet their goals.

Learn more about exercises and stretches that can improve hip mobility here.

While exercise may seem counterintuitive, doctors consider it a safe treatment for hip arthritis.

A 2019 review concluded that physical activity decreased pain and improved physical function.

Aside from helping manage pain, exercise can also reduce joint stiffness and physical limitations, leading to improved physical functioning and quality of life.

Strengthening the hip muscles takes some load off the weak hip joint and absorbs excessive forces and stress during activity. A 2018 study mentioned that exercise could improve balance, muscle strength, physical function, and mobility.

Research shows that among adults with arthritis, 22.5% reported symptoms of anxiety, and 12.1% reported depression.

The ways exercise can help a person goes beyond the physical benefits. Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance well-being. Even 10 minutes of walking increases mental alertness, energy, and positive mood. Exercise can be an alternative treatment for depression, a stand-alone treatment, or combined with medication or psychological therapy.

Exercise also causes the body to produce endorphins, which doctors consider natural painkillers.

Exercise can benefit people by:

  • improving memory and concentration
  • improving heart and lung function
  • preserving bone density
  • improving balance
  • reducing blood pressure
  • reducing cholesterol
  • improving blood sugar control
  • enhancing sleep quality

Before beginning any exercise, a person should seek guidance from their doctor or a physical therapist on safe exercises that they can perform while considering their condition.

There are other tips a person can consider to protect their joints during exercise:

  • Start small and slow: Gently introduce physical activity to the joints. Begin with light and easy exercises and gradually increase the intensity, frequency, or duration of the activity as tolerated.
  • Prepare the joint: Always do warmups before and cooldowns after every exercise. Always begin with stretching or other ROM exercises to prepare the body for strength and aerobic exercises.
  • Respect pain: When the hip or other body parts feel painful, stopping for a while or adjusting the exercise to a more tolerable level can help.

Physical therapists recommend people modify activities as necessary. Arthritis symptoms may come and go. A person should try to stay active and perform activities based on what feels tolerable at the moment.

Aside from exercise, a person can do other things to help manage hip arthritis.

Alternative remedies are things people can introduce to their daily routine at home. These include:

  • Hydration: Drinking enough water may help the body produce synovial fluid, keep joints lubricated, flush out toxins, and reduce inflammation.
  • Assistive devices: Using aids such as reachers may help people avoid positions that cause pain. Walking supports can help improve mobility while distributing the weight outside of the body, reducing stress on the joint.
  • Diet: Following a balanced diet can help a person maintain a moderate weight and reduce pressure on the hip joint.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying hot and cold compresses may improve joint stiffness and swelling. A person can use a hot or cold compress on sore joints for no more than 15–20 minutes at a given time.
  • Braces: Doctors may recommend that a person wear a hip brace to stabilize the joint, relieve pain, prevent injury, and encourage pain-free movement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have several self-management education workshops for people with arthritis and other chronic diseases.

A proper understanding of their condition and how it may affect their lives can empower a person to manage their condition better and learn how to live with hip arthritis.

Arthritis resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for arthritis, visit our dedicated hub.

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  • Medications: A doctor may recommend that a person take OTC or prescription pain relievers to manage pain that interferes with their daily functioning.
  • Physical therapy: A doctor or physical therapist can create an individualized exercise program that involves exercises that take into consideration the stage of hip arthritis and other health conditions a person may have.
  • Surgery: Doctors may recommend surgery if a person’s condition does not improve with nonsurgical interventions or causes significant disability and pain. Surgeries include hip resurfacing and partial or total hip replacement surgeries.

There is no cure for arthritis. It is progressive and gradually worsens over time. Treatment aims to help manage pain, maintain or improve physical function, and improve quality of life.

Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and early management can prevent or delay arthritis progression and the need for total hip arthroplasty (hip replacement surgery).

Hip arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that affects overall health, mobility, and quality of life.

Exercise offers many benefits to a person with hip arthritis. A person may consider asking for guidance from their healthcare professional about the approach to exercise that best fits their capacity and needs.