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Exercise Benefits for Hip Osteoarthritis

Improve hip pain and function with regular physical activity.

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Osteoarthritis (OA) affects more than 30 million adults in the U.S. and the majority of people are affected in their hips and knees. More than 300,000 hip replacements are performed each year based on 2010 data. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the numbers of hip surgeries are expected to rise over time and people will be getting them at younger ages.

If you are among the millions of Americans with hip OA, how can you ease your pain and delay or avoid that visit to the operating room? One answer is exercise!

A key goal of a hip exercise program is to strengthen the muscles that support your these joints. The deep stabilizing muscles of the hip can absorb shock and protect the joint from painful and harmful movements. So performing exercises that work the pelvis and buttocks can help improve your strength, flexibility and pain.

“The benefits of strengthening exercises are pretty well established, says Daniel K. White, PT, ScD, MSc, assistant professor, department of physical therapy, University of Delaware in Newark. “The best evidence shows that strengthening exercise is definitely associated with less pain.”

A 2017 study of Finnish women with hip OA supports White’s statement and backs previous research findings. Researchers found that after a 12-week exercise program, pain in 13 women with hip OA declined 30%. One measure of hip strength improved by 20% and one measure of hip range of motion improved by 30%. Their joint function and health-related quality of life improved slightly.  

A 2016 study of 210 people with hip OA found that those who participated in a 12-week exercise program had less pain and more mobility than the placebo or no-treatment groups.

Types of Exercise

Getting physical activity is an important part of managing osteoarthritis. But if you aren’t currently active, it’s important to start an exercise routine as soon as you start to have pain. A variety of land and water exercises can improve your hip muscles and OA pain, including strengthening, aerobic and flexibility activities. A physical therapist can develop a specific program of hip strengthening and flexibility exercises to help get your pain under control.

But White just wants to make sure you’re as active as possible. “Get moving is the mantra,” says White. “You can’t sit on the couch and hope the pain goes away.” And when you’re sitting for long periods, stand up and take a few steps every commercial break, White recommends.

“Maintain the active things you like to do in your life,” says White. “Try to do them and maintain them for as long as possible. It’s critical not only to your wellbeing and life participation, but also for your overall functional mobility.” White explains that everyday movements – getting out of a chair, getting dressed, walking out to the car and leaving the house -- use your muscles and keep you active.

Can Exercise Help Late-Stage Hip OA?

If you have late-stage hip OA and your doctor has already said you need a total hip replacement, recent studies show that doing hip-specific exercises in preparation won’t do you much good. Authors of a 2015 review of the literature on the subject concluded, “prehabilitation has no significant postoperative benefits in function, quality of life [or] pain in patients who have had knee or hip [replacement] for osteoarthritis.”

That doesn’t mean you should give up and lay down until your surgery. White urges people with end-stage hip disease to be as active as possible, “A big predictor of adverse events after surgery is your mobility before surgery. If you go into surgery weak and deconditioned, it’s very well established outcomes are not good.  Even if exercise is not going to help you with hip pain, it’s still better to go into surgery as healthy as possible.” 

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