Do you have hip pain? You’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 7 percent of adults in the U.S. have chronic hip pain (double that number of patients over the age of 60). A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the number of hip surgical procedures has also risen in recent years, and not just for senior patients:

Since the late 1990s, the number of total hip replacements in patients from 45 to 64 years of age increased sevenfold. The total hip replacements nearly doubled for the same age group. Among those 65 and older, partial hip replacement surgeries increased by 27 percent and total hip replacement surgeries increased by about 17 percent.

Why the increase?

The reasons for the increase in both partial and total hip replacement are probably due to two primary factors. First, the population as a whole is growing older. Meaning, more people are experiencing hip pain and other symptoms requiring surgical intervention. Second, improvements in surgical techniques and technology have resulted in safer, simpler approaches that in turn result in superior outcomes. This makes surgery a more attractive and appropriate solution for more people.

Of course, not everyone with hip pain or stiffness needs surgery; sometimes, nonsurgical alternatives like medication and physical therapy can help men and women avoid – at least temporarily – the need for surgical intervention.

The type of treatment depends not only on the extent of injury or damage to the joint. Sometimes, the type of damage that’s present and the way that damage or injury affects the normal function of the joint itself. To understand why hips develop painful symptoms, either suddenly or over time, it’s important to understand a little bit about the anatomy of the joint.

Hip Anatomy 101

Your hip refers to as a “ball and socket” joint, named for the two primary components that make up the joint. The rounded or ball-shaped end of the upper thigh bone or femur (called the femoral head), and the socket (also called the acetabulum) that cradles the ball and enables it to move freely and, hopefully, without pain or friction. Like your shoulder – another ball-and-socket joint – the hip joint socket surrounds by a ring of strong cartilage called the labrum. This helps support the femoral head and keeps it in place in the socket. Several ligaments also work to keep the joint in its proper position and to facilitate normal, pain-free range of motion.

Both the femoral head and the interior surface of the acetabulum are lined with a thick layer of cartilage, which acts as a slippery and slick surface that helps prevent friction when you move the joint. And of course, the hip is also served by blood vessels, nerves and muscle tissue, which plays a role in the movement of the joint as well as joint stability.

Next up: Diagnosis and evaluation

Joints are complex structures that depend on the health and function of all their parts for normal movement. When a hip joint develops pain or other symptoms, the first step in determining treatment is to evaluate the joint. To identify which structures are involved and how they’re damaged. In part two of this four-part series, we’ll look at some of the techniques surgeons use to evaluate the hips to determine the best course of treatment.

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