The hip joint is a ball and socket synovial joint. It is important for walking, running and jumping. It bears our body’s weight and the force of strong muscles in order to keep the joint both flexible and stable.

The hip joint is made up of the ball of the femur (thigh bone) and the socket of the pelvis (acetabulum). Hyaline cartilage lines both the acetabulum and the head of the femur, providing a smooth surface for joint movements, it also acts as a flexible shock absorber to prevent the collision of the bones during movement. Between the layers of hyaline cartilage, synovial membranes secrete watery synovial fluid to lubricate the joint capsule. The hip joint is surrounded by tough ligaments that prevent the joint from dislocating. The strong muscles of the hip region also help to hold the hip joint together and prevent dislocation.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of joint disease. The joint surfaces become damaged and therefore stop the joints from moving freely. It can also be called arthrosis or osteoarthrosis or described as wear and tear and degenerative.


In hip joint osteoarthritis, some of the cartilage covering the head of the femur and/or the acetabulum gradually roughens and becomes thin, and the bone underneath thickens. All the tissues within the joint become more active than normal – as if your body is trying to repair the damage:

  • Osteophytes (bony spurs) can form as the edge of your joint grows outwards.
  • The joint may swell as the synovium (the inner layer of the joint capsule which produces synovial fluid) thickens and makes extra fluid.
  • The capsule and ligaments slowly thicken and contract as if they were trying to make your joint more stable.

In severe cases all of your cartilage may wear away on parts of the joint and the two bones will be rubbing together.

When to seek help

If you cannot carry out your normal everyday activities or hobbies without pain (limiting), or if pain is having a big impact.

Symptoms may include joint pain, stiffness, difficulty getting in/out of a car, reaching down to put your shoes and socks on, lifting your legs into bed.

Treatment available

A Physiotherapist or Chiropractor will fully assess your condition and, if the diagnosis of hip osteoarthritis is confirmed, provide treatment for pain management and education in activity modification. They will also address any muscular and/or biomechanical dysfunction, which may have led to the condition. Treatment may consist of specific strengthening exercises for the hip and core muscles, manual therapy techniques to help reduce the stiffness and specific soft tissue massage. You may also like to see our Dietician for advice and management of weight loss and a healthier diet, our Sports Therapist for some 1:1 specific graded strengthening programme and/or one of our Massage Therapists to address the muscular component.

Laura Williams, Physiotherapist