Treating hip pain with less invasive techniques

Joint Health

by Joel Wells, MD

Jul 6, 2023

The hip is one of the hardest working joints in the human body, tasked with supporting the weight of our upper torso and giving us the ability to walk and move. So when things go wrong, the consequences can be serious.

The good news? Hip surgeons can treat hip injuries and disorders that can be debilitating to your day-to-day life. And there are alternatives to hip replacement.

The majority of reasons that patients experience hip pain are mechanical, caused by either hip dysplasia or hip impingement. The goal of hip preservation is to correct the underlying pathology, whether arthroscopic or open, to help prevent hip replacement.

Potential problems causing joint damage

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint that normally moves smoothly. But if the head of the femur (the ball) or the acetabulum (the socket) are shaped abnormally, the hip bones rub against each other and cause damage to the joint.

One of the most common problems we see is hip dysplasia.

In hip dysplasia, the socket and the ball can be misshapen, which can lead to early arthritis. If caught early, correction can be performed in hopes of preventing further arthritis.

hip-preservation-update-text.jpgIn cam impingement, the femoral head is not round and cannot rotate smoothly inside the acetabulum. A bump forms on the edge of the femoral head that grinds cartilage inside the socket. If the cartilage around the joint gets torn, more rapid degeneration can occur, and that can lead to arthritis.

So, what causes the changes to the ball and socket? A few factors include genetic predisposition and a high activity level.

A better fix: Minimally invasive surgery

Before hip preservation surgery, physicians just waited until the hip failed and then performed a total hip replacement.

In contrast, arthroscopy involves just two or three small incisions near the joint. We look for tears or debris inside the joint, as well as the cartilage and whether it’s torn. If the femoral head or cup doesn’t fit properly, we sculpt it so that it moves freely again.

Patients can continue to improve if they keep doing rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles and tendons.

For any patient who has hip pain, no matter what age, seeing a hip specialist is the right first step. Find a specialist near you and download our hip pain treatment guide.

About the Author

Joel Wells, MD, is medical and research director of the Hip Preservation Center at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center — McKinney. He is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in comprehensive hip surgery, hip preservation, resurfacing and reconstruction. 

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