Hip osteoarthritis is the degeneration, or breaking down, of the hip joint. It happens in four stages, going from minor wear and tear to severe chronic joint inflammation.

Arthritis refers to the pain and inflammation of joints. It can affect any joint within the body, and over 100 different types of arthritis and related diseases exist.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, affecting approximately 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage within a joint breaks down. This results in bone changes and pain, swelling, and stiffness. It can occur within any joint in the body, including the hip.

Hip osteoarthritis occurs in four stages.

In this article, we discuss the four hip osteoarthritis stages. We also examine how quickly hip osteoarthritis progresses and when to contact a doctor.

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Stage 1 hip osteoarthritis refers to minor wear and tear of the hip joint. A person may experience little to no pain.

During this stage, a person may develop some bone spurs. Bone spurs are small, smooth growths along the joints. They are not harmful but could get worse in the later stages of the condition and cause concerns.

Symptoms

Many people with stage 1 hip osteoarthritis have few symptoms. However, some people may experience minor stiffness and mild pain.

Treatment

Since people may not know they have stage 1 osteoarthritis of the hip, they may not be receiving treatment.

If a person thinks they have hip osteoarthritis, they should aim to prevent the condition from worsening. They can do this by taking part in low level physical activity and maintaining a moderate weight.

Stage 2 hip osteoarthritis is also minor, but a person may notice some discomfort and pain in their hip. With stage 2 hip osteoarthritis, doctors may be able to identify bone spurs on X-ray images and make a diagnosis.

Symptoms

A person may notice mild hip stiffness, particularly after sitting or standing for long periods. They may also experience some mild pain.

Treatment

If a doctor detects stage 2 hip osteoarthritis, they may recommend exercises to strengthen the hip and help stop the symptoms from worsening.

Sometimes, a person may benefit from using a brace to limit movement and protect the hip joints from stress.

Stage 3 of hip osteoarthritis is moderate. This is the stage where cartilage begins to wear away, causing further pain, discomfort, and inflammation. Larger bone spurs may also develop, which doctors can identify on X-ray images.

Symptoms

A person with stage 3 hip osteoarthritis may experience the following:

  • moderate pain that increases with activity
  • moderate stiffness
  • inflammation of the hip joint
  • a popping sound in the hip, known as crepitus

Treatment

People should continue to exercise the hip to strengthen it and increase mobility.

They can take over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage the pain. Doctors can also provide stronger pain medications if these do not help.

A person could also attend physical therapy sessions. In these sessions, a physical therapist will provide exercises aiming to help increase mobility and reduce pain.

An individual may also receive corticosteroid injections. Doctors administer these into the hip joint to temporarily reduce pain and inflammation.

Stage 4 hip osteoarthritis is severe. A person with stage 4 hip osteoarthritis may have chronic inflammation and pain.

The cartilage in the hip will be thin and brittle. There is a significant reduction in the cushioning fluid that flows through the joints. This can make the hip extremely painful and severely stiff most of the time.

Symptoms

The symptoms that may be present in stage 4 hip osteoarthritis may include:

  • severe hip pain most of the time
  • stiffness most of the time
  • inflammation
  • crepitus

These symptoms may interfere with sleep and affect a person’s ability to carry out simple daily tasks.

Treatment

When a person has stage 4 hip osteoarthritis, doctors will usually consider surgery.

Surgical options include the following:

  • Hip arthroscopy: This is keyhole surgery and involves a surgeon scraping away the damaged cells within the hip.
  • Osteotomy: Also known as bone realignment surgery, this process involves cutting the top of the thighbone and realigning it, removing pressure from the hip joint.
  • Hip resurfacing: This is a partial hip replacement procedure in which a surgeon removes the bone and cartilage in the hip socket. They then replace it with an artificial metal, plastic, or ceramic shell.
  • Total hip replacement: This is the same as hip resurfacing but with the addition of replacing the head of the femur bone.

The time it takes for osteoarthritis to progress varies. However, there are ways a person can try to slow down this process.

People can do joint strengthening activities. As well as strengthening the bones, these exercises can help improve mobility and reduce pain.

People should also aim to limit any activities that make the condition worse. If a person continues doing these activities, osteoarthritis may develop more quickly.

Alternative ways to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis include:

People should contact a doctor if they are experiencing frequent hip pain or stiffness. A doctor may conduct a physical examination of the area and look for signs of pain, swelling, and lack of mobility.

A doctor may also conduct an X-ray imaging test to confirm the diagnosis. However, an X-ray may be unreliable in diagnosing a person in stages 1 or 2 of hip osteoarthritis.

Hip osteoarthritis is a condition that results in the breakdown of cartilage surrounding the hip joint. It occurs in four stages. The first stage may happen without symptoms.

In the later stages, a person may receive prescription medication or qualify for surgery. Surgery can involve a hip replacement or other similar procedures.

A person can help slow down the progression of osteoarthritis by taking part in regular physical activity, strengthening the joints, reducing pain-enhancing activities, and eating a balanced diet.