Monday Medical: Common hip issues

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Part 2 outlines non-surgical and surgical treatment options for hip injuries.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The hip is the strongest joint in the body. But because it takes a lot of weight and pressure every day, it can be susceptible to a range of issues.

Dr. Bobby Howarth, an orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat Springs specializing in total hip replacement and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, describes common hip injuries below.

Hip joint basics

The ball of the hip joint is the top of the femur, also called the thighbone, while the socket is the inside of the pelvis. This powerful joint supports your body weight, is inherently stable and allows for significant range of motion.

The hip plays an important role in various movements, from walking and sitting to skiing and biking. When something goes wrong, the impact is often far-reaching.

“The hip is a very mobile joint, but once you lose that range of motion, it affects the way we walk and results in multiple problems, such as an abnormal gait, a bad back and even poor posture,” Howarth said. “It reduces our ability to do activities, such as skiing and biking and walking.”

If you go

What: “Why does my hip hurt?” A virtual joint replacement seminar

When: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11

Presented by: Dr. Bobby Howarth, an orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat Springs specializing in total hip replacement and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Registration: Online at

For more info: Email

Hip arthritis

Osteoarthritis, or a gradual wear and tear of the joint, is one of the most common issues that affects the hip. As the cartilage cushioning the bones of the hip wears away, the bones rub together, causing pain.

Traumatic arthritis can result from damage due to an injury or fracture, while rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the lining of the joint, which can damage the cartilage and lead to pain and stiffness.

“Hip arthritis can present in many different ways,” Howarth said. “It can feel like knee pain or a groin sprain. And lack of motion in the hip over time causes back pain.”

Hip bursitis

One or both of the hip’s bursa, or fluid-filled sacs that cushion the hip joint, can become irritated and inflamed, a condition known as hip bursitis. This condition causes stiffness and pain around the hip joint.

Other injuries

Tendons and ligaments around the hip can get torn or become too tight, and bone spurs and tumors can form.

If an injury or tumor decreases blood flow, or vascularity, to the joint, a portion of the bone may die and the joint may begin to break down rapidly.

“Vascularity to hip is very tenuous and can be compromised easily,” Howarth said. “If you break the hip or femoral neck, the bone will die, and you’ll need a total hip replacement. It can become an emergent issue that could require immediate surgery.”

Signs of hip damage

Pain in the hip and back when walking or doing regular activities is one sign that something is wrong. Loss of motion is another: When cartilage wears away at the joint, your body may create extra bone in the socket, restricting motion and making it difficult to move the leg normally.

“You can tolerate a certain degree of arthritis in the hip, but when you get that extra bone, the motion decreases significantly,” Howarth said. “Oftentimes, a spouse or loved one will say, ‘You’re walking funny,’ or a patient realizes they can’t tie their shoes or walk normally. If the hip or groin hurts, or you’re not able to do things you once did, you should see a physician.”

Genetics, family history and participation in various sports, such as cycling, volleyball and skiing, can all make someone more prone to suffering from hip issues.

Keep in mind that hip issues are not always a result of advancing age.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are — if you have hip arthritis and can’t do activities you normally would, your quality of life is severely hampered,” Howarth said.

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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