Four Stages of Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is a degenerative joint disease. It results from wear-and-tear in the joints. In hip osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the hip joint thins over time, reducing the protective layer between bones, leading to bone-on-bone rubbing and the formation of new bone spurs. These changes contribute to the symptoms of hip osteoarthritis—which include pain and stiffness in the groin, buttocks, and knee.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, with sequential stages. Your treatment will depend on the stage of your hip osteoarthritis.

Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis

The risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include:

  • Obesity
  • Advancing age
  • Previous injury to the hip joint
  • Structural problems with the hip joint, such as hip dysplasia and femoroacetabular impingement
  • Family history of osteoarthritis

However, osteoarthritis of the hip may develop in people without these risk factors. If left untreated in the early stages, this condition can progress to the end-stage within 15 years.

a male jogger having pain in his left hip

 Jan-Otto / Getty Images

Stage 1

This is the earliest and mildest stage of hip osteoarthritis. During stage 1, there are very few signs of wear-and-tear between the hip joints, possibly with a few bone spurs. These spurs are irregular growths of bone that develop where two bones meet at joints.

Symptoms

Stage 1 hip osteoarthritis is associated with little to no pain in the affected area. For that reason, people with this stage of hip osteoarthritis may not be aware that they have this condition.

Treatments

Prevention will be the focus of treatment for this stage. Prevention can involve avoiding activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running.

People with this stage of hip osteoarthritis may also be asked to modify their exercise routine to minimize physical stress on their hip joints.

If you are overweight, weight loss can reduce the amount of stress placed on your hip joints and help slow down the progression of the disease. 

Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin may be prescribed.

Living with Osteoarthritis

Self-care approaches like eating healthy can keep osteoarthritis from becoming worse.

Stage 2

This stage is commonly referred to as mild hip osteoarthritis. Bone spur growths may be seen on x-rays of hip and knee joints, and the space between the bones still appears normal.

Even though cartilage remains healthy at this stage, there is a breakdown of the cartilage matrix due to increased production of enzymes, like matrix metalloproteinases. 

Symptoms

People at this stage will begin to experience pain and discomfort in the hip area. They may notice stiffness, especially when they get up in the morning or after sitting for a long time.

Treatments

People with this stage of hip osteoarthritis are usually placed on a regular workout plan with energy-building exercises to prevent worsening of symptoms. Strengthening the muscles around the arthritic joints can help stabilize them and keep them strong.

Also, braces and knee supports may be used to protect the joints from strain and stress.

Stage 3

Often referred to as moderate hip osteoarthritis, this stage is characterized by significant erosion of the cartilage between hip bones. The gap between the bones narrows as the joints become inflamed and collagen fragments are released into the synovial fluid that lubricates the joints. Larger bone spurs are formed, and the joints become rougher.

Symptoms

People with stage 3 hip osteoarthritis will feel pain with normal activities, like walking, running, squatting, extending, or kneeling. Swelling can increase, especially with prolonged activity.

Joint movement can cause popping or snapping sounds in the morning or after sitting for a long time. 

Treatments

People with moderate hip arthritis should continue the lifestyle strategies recommended in stages 1 and 2.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving pills, like acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually recommended at this stage. If these treatments don't help, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain-relieving medicine for you. 

Physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen the muscles around the joints and help ease the pain. Doctors may also recommend steroid injections to decrease inflammation or lubricating fluids to replenish the fluids that naturally lubricate the joint.

Most people who have mild osteoarthritis experience relief with ice, rest, lifestyle modifications, pills, or joint injections. As the condition progresses, it often becomes less responsive to these treatments. Advanced stages of osteoarthritis may necessitate surgery, such as hip replacement surgery.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most severe stage of hip osteoarthritis.

At this stage:

  • The cartilage is thin and brittle
  • There is chronic inflammation of the joints
  • Bone spur growth is present
  • The synovial fluid is significantly diminished

Symptoms

In advanced osteoarthritis, pain and stiffness are present most of the time, even without activity or movement. The pain can disrupt daily activities and interfere with sleep. 

Treatments

Surgery is often considered at this stage.

  • Bone realignment surgery may be recommended. During this procedure, the orthopedic surgeon will cut the bones around the affected joint to realign them, reducing stress on the joint. This surgery helps to protect the hip by shifting the weight of the body away from the area of damage.  
  • Total hip replacement (also called total hip arthroplasty) is a procedure in which the damaged hip joint is removed and replaced with a prosthetic device. Recovery may take several weeks and involves physical and occupational therapy.

A Word From Verywell

Progression of osteoarthritis causes worsening symptoms and can substantially interfere with your daily life. If you are having a tough time coping, talk to your doctor to review your treatment plan and determine if changes are needed. Also, be sure to modify any activities that may be aggravating your condition.

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Article Sources
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  1. Orthopaedic Specialty Group. The 4 stages of osteoarthritis.

  2. Washington University Orthopedics. Arthritis of the hip - types, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment.

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