Every year, in the United States alone, there are 300,000 hip replacement procedures performed.
The hip joint is the point of union between the ball shaped head of the thigh bone (femur) and the cup shaped socket (acetabulum) at the side of the pelvis. When you stand on two legs, half the body weight passes through each hip joint. But when you are on one leg, as in walking, because of the lever arm effect of the off-centre joint, the force going through the hip is equivalent to four times the body weight. That is, unless you use a cane in the opposite hand, which will share the load.
The indications for elective surgery on the hip joint are pain and loss of function. There are various causes for these, but all of them have in some way brought about a loss of the normal smooth action of the body’s strongest ball and socket joint.
The most common problem is osteoarthritis, otherwise known as degenerative arthritis. This usually occurs “spontaneously” (which means we cannot determine the exact cause) in older persons, but may follow major trauma to the pelvis and acetabulum, a fracture of the femoral head or neck, or a congenital inadequacy of the joint.
The initial treatment of painful hip arthritis is usually by medication, a walking stick in the opposite hand to relieve the mechanical force on the hip joint, and physiotherapy. Only when these and other conservative, non-surgical measures have proved insufficient should surgery be considered.
Is the pain so severe that it interferes with important activities? Is pain not relieved by rest? Does it prevent you from sleeping? Has your hip become so stiff you have difficulty even moving the leg?
If the answer to those question is a “yes”, it may be a good idea to ask your doctor whether you might benefit from a hip replacement surgery.