Young woman receives physical therapy treatment for hip arthritis without surgery

Effective Treatment for Hip Arthritis Without Surgery

You went to see the doctor about that consistent twinge in your hip, and it’s official: You have hip arthritis. Naturally, treatment for hip arthritis without surgery is one of the first things you look for. No one wants to undergo a potentially costly, complex, and invasive medical procedure if they have other options. 

The earlier you catch it, the wider your options to treat hip arthritis become. Some will be simple lifestyle changes designed to slow the progress of arthritis, while others exist to help manage the pain associated with the condition. 

And of course, when talking about how to treat hip arthritis without surgery, remember to consult with your care team before making any major changes to your lifestyle or diet. 

Your doctors are familiar with your individual needs and history. This means they’ll be able to guide you in the direction of the most helpful treatments for the quickest relief. 

Before we dive into treatment for hip arthritis without surgery, let’s take a moment to talk about what hip arthritis is, and how it affects your body. 

What is hip arthritis?

Hip arthritis is a common condition, usually, but not always, brought on by aging. People with a family history of osteoarthritis, previous injuries to their hip joint, or obesity may be diagnosed with hip arthritis while they’re still young. 

Treatment for hip arthritis without surgery usually requires managing pain and increasing mobility. This is because hip arthritis damages the cartilage your hip joint needs to move smoothly and comfortably. 

Over time, this damage can be so severe that there’s almost no cartilage left. Your bones are left to rub against each other, which limits mobility and is intensely painful. 

What is cartilage?

Cartilage is a type of connective tissue in your body. Your nose and ears both contain cartilage – which is incredibly strong and flexible. Your joints – such as your hips – use cartilage as a cushion and lubricant, allowing your body to move smoothly. 

Cartilage is made almost entirely of type 2 collagen, a protein abundant in the human body. 

Where is collagen found beside your hips? 

Every joint is capped with cartilage, but collagen is also found in your skin, hair, nails, eyes, and blood vessels. This protein is one of the most basic building blocks of the human body! 

Since it’s largely made of protein, cartilage doesn’t have any nerve endings. In joints without arthritis, this means that moving a joint is something you can do without even noticing the joint itself. 

Arthritis occurs when this natural cushion gets worn down over time or due to an injury or illness. Without the cartilage, your bones start to bump into each other. Since your bones do have nerve endings, this means that each time you move your joint, you feel pain.

Treatment for hip arthritis without surgery, when you catch it early, is largely trying to prevent the cartilage from wearing down further. As the condition advances, your treatment’s focus will switch to pain management.  

Why is surgery recommended as a treatment for hip arthritis?

Surgery is often recommended as a treatment for hip arthritis once it becomes too severe. Treatment for hip arthritis without surgery can delay surgery, but you may eventually need it anyway. 

This is because arthritis damages cartilage, which is naturally slow to heal. Why is cartilage slow to heal? Generally, it’s because cartilage isn’t infused with blood vessels, making the healing process very difficult. 

However, as it advances, arthritis doesn’t just damage your cartilage; it wears the cartilage away entirely. Your body loses the ability to regrow cartilage once you reach adulthood, so once your cartilage has worn away, there’s no way for your body to replace it. 

The main surgery used to treat advanced stages of hip arthritis is a total hip replacement, which uses implants to cover the joint so you can move without pain. 

The most effective treatment for hip arthritis without surgery is prevention – using lifestyle changes to reduce the rate at which your cartilage is worn away to delay the need for surgery as long as possible.

How to treat hip arthritis without surgery

Finding treatment for hip arthritis without surgery doesn’t involve a lot of fancy gadgets or miraculous supplements. Instead, use nutrition and movement to give your body what it needs to strengthen your joints and the muscles surrounding them. 

Total hip replacements typically wear down in a period of about 15 to 20 years. To avoid needing to undergo this surgery multiple times, the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons recommends waiting until at least the age of 60 to consider a total hip replacement.

This means that as arthritis advances, mobility aid and pain management become an important part of how to treat hip arthritis without surgery. 

To start, let’s talk about pain management.

Pain medications and injections

Finding hip arthritis pain relief is important, no matter what the severity of your arthritis is. This is because pain is a central part of arthritis from the day you’re first diagnosed. 

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin can be helpful for mild to moderate pain. These medications can sometimes be a double-edged sword, though, since removing the pain makes overworking the injured hip more likely.

Treatment for hip arthritis without surgery can also include corticosteroids injected directly into the injured hip. This medication mimics hormones your body naturally produces to decrease swelling and inflammation. 

In either case, it’s important to remember that managing pain doesn’t make the condition disappear. You’ll want to look at how to treat hip arthritis in a way that addresses your cartilage wearing down, not just the pain associated with it. 

Weight management

The joints in your legs, including your hips, carry a lot of pressure. They keep your whole body upright, and when you walk, they move you forward. This means that in an average individual, you exert about 1.5 times your body weight in force on your hips. 

When you’re carrying excess weight, your hips absorb that, contributing to the damage arthritis does to your cartilage.

Weight loss is often recommended as a treatment for hip arthritis without surgery. Studies have shown significant improvement in mobility and pain in people with hip arthritis when they lose weight. 

Weight loss can be difficult, so if weight loss is part of your treatment for hip arthritis, it’s important to talk with your doctor. They can help you determine a dietary plan, including supporting your choice of any daily supplements to help you meet your nutrition goals.

Gentle exercise

Whether you need to lose weight or not, gentle exercise is a key part of how to treat hip arthritis without surgery. The key word here is gentle. High-impact activities that include running, jumping, quick starts and stops, and heavy lifting will increase the rate at which your cartilage wears down. 

This means you’ll want to opt for activities that are easy on your joints, like walking on a no-incline treadmill, biking, yoga, or swimming. 

Swimming can be especially helpful during treatment for hip arthritis without surgery since being in the water takes the pressure of gravity off your joints. 

Exercise will help you lose weight, if needed, and/or prevent weight gain. It also keeps the muscles around your joints strong and flexible, placing less stress on the joints themselves. 

Mobility aids and hip braces

Hip arthritis decreases the mobility of your hips, so part of your treatment for hip arthritis without surgery may include a mobility aid, like a cane or a walker. 

Mobility aids can be especially helpful if you anticipate being on your feet for long periods of time since they can give your hip a chance to rest. Some walkers include a space to sit down for this very reason.

Mobility aids can decrease the amount of stress walking places on your hips and may also ease any pain you experience when walking. 

Hip braces can help to distribute the pressure your hips deal with across a larger area. The compression a hip brace provides can add some stability to the joint and help decrease inflammation. 

Like mobility aids, hip braces can be part of an effective treatment for hip arthritis without surgery to ease some of the pain you might experience while walking.

Physical therapy

When working with your care team on a plan for hip arthritis treatment, they may direct you to a physical therapist. You can think of a physical therapist as part doctor, part personal trainer. They will help you increase your range of motion and decrease the pain you are experiencing. 

When it comes to treatment for hip arthritis without surgery, physical therapy is one of the first medical interventions you’ll be directed to. This is because your physical therapist can create a movement plan uniquely tailored to your body’s needs and abilities. 

Physical therapy isn’t a replacement for gentle exercise, but a physical therapist can help you create an exercise plan to manage your hip arthritis symptoms.

Heat therapy

Heat therapy is a form of pain management and will likely have some place in your plan for how to treat hip arthritis. Heat causes your muscles to relax, and your body to send more blood to that area. The increased blood flow and relaxation relieve arthritis pain and stiffness. 

When using heat as part of your treatment for hip arthritis without surgery, there are a few guidelines to follow. 

First, opt for heating pads, hot water bottles, or electric blankets over topical heat treatments such as creams or gels. The topical heat won’t reach deep enough into your tissues to relieve the pain in your hips. 

Use heating pads for no more than 30 minutes at a time, so you don’t accidentally burn yourself. However, a warm bath can also help relieve pain, and you can stay there for as long as you like!

You may also want to try alternating heat therapy with cold therapy to decrease inflammation. Use heat, cold, or both at least twice a day, but experiment until you find a rhythm that works for you!

Collagen supplementation

Taking a daily collagen supplement can be part of your treatment for hip arthritis without surgery. Collagen injections have been shown to delay cartilage breakdown since your cartilage is primarily made of collagen. 

The best collagen for joints will have a few things to ensure your body can make the most of it. 

First, collagen molecules are too big for your stomach to absorb the collagen fully. This means you’ll want to look for collagen that has been “hydrolyzed” or broken down into smaller molecules so your body can absorb it more easily.

You’ll also want to make sure that your collagen is a complete protein. If your collagen isn’t a complete protein, you won’t be able to provide your body with the full set of building blocks it needs to strengthen and repair tissue in and around your hips.

A complete, hydrolyzed collagen protein will be more bioavailable. This means your body will be able to access all the benefits of collagen and make it a key part of your treatment for hip arthritis without surgery.

Finding treatment for hip arthritis without surgery

Sometimes, surgery is necessary, but if you catch hip arthritis early, you can find an effective treatment for hip arthritis without surgery. There are three pillars to managing hip arthritis: pain management, mobility, and nutrition. 

First, use pain medications, injections, or heat therapy to manage your pain. Pain can keep you from feeling like yourself, and might make it hard to care for your body in other ways. 

Once your pain is under control, use gentle exercise, weight management, physical therapy, and mobility aids to bring back the function of your hip. 

And last but not least, make sure your nutrition needs are met. Nutrition can make a huge difference in effective treatment for hip arthritis without surgery. 

Supplementing with medical-grade collagen can help strengthen the cartilage that your body still has, so you can find arthritis relief without surgery.