The hip is a 'ball and socket' joint. The ends of the ball (femoral head) and the socket (acetabulum) are normally covered with a layer of smooth cartilage. If the cartilage wears out, bone will rub on bone, resulting in a stiff and painful arthritic hip. An x-ray of the hip joint usually shows a space between the ball and the socket because the cartilage does not show up on x-rays. In the normal hip this joint space is approximately 1/4 inch wide and fairly even in outline. (x-ray and illustration of a normal hip)
Most hip arthritis is genetic, with a family predisposition. It is probably not activity related, and, in fact, activity may be helpful in reducing the risk of arthritis.
The symptoms include pain when walking, difficulty tying your shoes ( or putting on socks), difficulty with stairs, and difficulty getting in and out of cars. The pain is usually felt in the groin area. Symptoms also include decreased range of motion of the hip, with pain on extremes of motion.
Work-up of hip arthritis includes a history and physical examination. X-rays are taken to see if there is loss of hip joint space between the ball and socket due to cartilage wear, bone spurs, and cysts. Any other possible causes of hip pain are ruled out.
Conservative (nonoperative) treatment includes weight control, continuing activity, anti-inflammatory medication, and the use of a cane or walker.