It can be tempting to stop exercising or even cut back on normal activities, such as walking, as hip osteoarthritis symptoms worsen. While you may have to modify your activity routine, it is important to keep moving. Experts recommend that you continue to exercise regularly to maintain mobility and strengthen the muscles around your hip.
In one clinical study, 1 Krauß I, Steinhilber B, Haupt G, Miller R, Martus P, Janßen P. Exercise therapy in hip osteoarthritis--a randomized controlled trial. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(35-36):592–599. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0592 researchers looked at people with hip osteoarthritis who engaged in a 12-week exercise therapy program. The exercise program involved both class-based and in-home training. The goal was to strengthen the muscles around the hip and to improve body awareness, balance, and flexibility.
After 3 months, the group who participated in the exercise program (71 people) had less pain and more mobility compared with a placebo group that received ultrasound treatment (70 people) and the control group that received no treatment (68 people).
This small study is just one in a larger body of research that strongly suggests people who have hip osteoarthritis and get regular exercise experience less pain and stiffness, as well as improved hip function. 2 Fransen M, McConnell S, Hernandez-Molina G, Reichenbach S. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the hip. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Apr 22;(4):CD007912. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007912.pub2 , 3 Kraus VB, Sprow K, Powell KE, Buchner D, Bloodgood B, Piercy K, George SM, Kraus WE. Effects of Physical Activity in Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Umbrella Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jun;51(6):1324-1339. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001944 , 4 Wellsandt E, Golightly Y. Exercise in the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2018 Mar;30(2):151-159. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0000000000000478
Strong muscles take stress off the hip joint
Hip osteoarthritis symptoms usually develop gradually as the hip joint’s cartilage wears down over time. Your symptoms will continue to get worse if you sit around and do nothing because you will lose vital strength and mobility. Muscle strength is important to absorb the force before it goes into the joint. If you don’t exercise your muscles will get weaker, and more force will go into the arthritic hip joint.
Exercise probably won’t make hip arthritis worse
You may worry that working out will cause your arthritic hip to deteriorate faster. For most people, this worry is unfounded. In fact, research suggests you can walk for at least 10,000 steps (roughly 5 miles) each day without doing additional damage to your arthritic hip joint. 5 Dore D, Winzenberg T, Ding C, et al. The association between objectively measured physical activity and knee structural change using MRI. Ann Rheum Dis. 2013;72(7):1170–5. As cited in Kraus VB, Sprow K, Powell KE, Buchner D, Bloodgood B, Piercy K, George SM, Kraus WE. Effects of Physical Activity in Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Umbrella Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jun;51(6):1324-1339. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001944
Choose an exercise routine you enjoy, whether it involves workouts at the gym, yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, or more moderate activity such as short walks throughout each day. Try to find the right exercise program that allows you to get stronger without significantly increasing your symptoms.
A doctor can help
While regular exercise is recommended, it’s always good to check with your doctor before adopting a new exercise routine. Contact your doctor if you experience:
- Chronic moderate to severe pain
- Sharp or shooting pain
- Hip locking
- Hip pain that interrupts sleep
A doctor may want to examine you to make sure hip osteoarthritis is the only cause of your hip pain. If osteoarthritis is the confirmed cause of pain, then physical therapy will likely be prescribed.
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The goal of physical therapy will be to strengthen the hip’s supportive muscles, increase the hip’s range of motion, and improve the hip’s function. Supervised physical therapy can help many people return to their previous fitness levels, allowing them to safely participate in exercise routines of their choice.
Other hip arthritis treatments may be necessary
A doctor may also recommend other treatments besides physical therapy and exercise. In fact, hip osteoarthritis commonly requires a combination of treatments. For example, a treatment plan may include exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and using oral or topical pain relievers as needed. Pain relievers may allow you to participate in certain (safe) exercises that are otherwise painful, maximizing your potential benefits.
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If nonsurgical treatments fail to relieve hip pain over time, your doctor may suggest surgery. The most common surgical option is hip arthroplasty, also known as a total hip replacement.