Hip Arthroscopy and the Crazy, Complicated Joint for Walking.


Some Background

The hip joint is built for stability during weight bearing activities such as walking, running, getting out of a chair, ascending and descending stairs and squatting to the floor to pick something up. The bony geometry of the hip reveals a deep socket (acetabulum) surrounding the ball (head) of the thigh bone (femur). The acetabulum and the femoral head are covered with cartilage. The angle of the shaft of the femur relative to the head, the amount of rotation in the shaft of the femur (torsion) and the depth of the acetabulum has an impact on the biomechanics of the joint and, if abnormal, the need for hip arthroscopy. Measurement of these angles by the physical therapist and the orthopedic surgeon in addition to performing special testing to stress structures of the hip helps in developing a clinical picture in the presence of hip pain.

(From Wikidoc.org)

A cartilaginous structure surrounding the acetabulum, the acetabular labrum, can become torn due to degenerative processes or through trauma.

Surrounding and encasing the joint is the capsule which includes strong ligaments (capsuloligamentous complex). This structure gives additional stability to the joint during movement. These stabilizing structures include the iliofemoral, ischiofemoral and pubofemoral ligaments. Together with the ball and socket bony structure, the strength of these ligaments makes it hard to dislocate a normal hip – thank our lucky stars!

Hip Ligaments.jpg

(From http://www.medillsb.com)

Muscles, attached from the pelvis to the femur, create movement and stability during weight bearing on the limb. The primary movers of the hip joint are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, iliopsoas and the various adductor muscles. In addition, there are the quadriceps (front of the thigh), particularly the rectus femoris, and the hamstrings (back of the thigh) to consider as well as the hip rotators, situated deep to the gluteus musculature.

To the left you seethe outer hip muscles. Peel them away and you reach the deeper muscles, as seen in the image immediately above. So, based on the complex muscular anatomy, and how important these muscles are in normal walking, as well as all other weight bearing function, be skeptical of healthcare providers who feel no physical therapy is needed after some kind of surgery. You must retrain the muscles to work correctly.

Important biomechanics

Consider this. Each time we transfer weight onto one of our legs, the hip abductors (gluteus medius) must contract to stabilize the pelvis (not permit it to sag on the non-weight bearing side). The importance of this from a rehabilitation standpoint is that the physical therapist will focus a great deal of attention on maximizing the functional strength of this muscle, it being so vital in recovery of a normal gait pattern.

Trendelenberg gait

(Picture from the Oregon Exercise Therapy Blog)

Here is a video of the abnormal gait pattern seen due to weak hip abductors – a Trendelenberg Gait.

Hip Arthroscopy

Hip arthroscopy is commonly used to address acetabular labral tears and femoroacetabular impingement as well as capsular repair. It may also be used to remove any chondral flaps due to arthritis within the joint. During an arthroscopy the surgeon may also perform a soft tissue release to alleviate muscle pain due to tendons or parts of a muscle rubbing on a bony prominence.

In a future post, I hope to convince one of the orthopedic surgeons, who specializes in hip arthroscopy, to detail his thoughts on the indications for hip arthroscopy. Maybe he can also give some insight into why he feels physical therapy is beneficial following such a surgery.

Your Call to Action

If you walk with a limp without pain and feel off balance or are concerned your leg will give way on you, it may be that you need very specific strengthening exercises to correct your gait and prevent falling. After all, if you prevent falls, by strengthening supplemented by specific fall prevention training, you avoiding impact in hitting the ground, i.e. falls, and thus you avoid more severe injuries such as fractures.

Call a physical therapist and get in for an evaluation and a suitable exercise/balance program. You will be glad you did!

Hip pain – 21 months to diagnosis?


A study by Burnett et al in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (2006) documented an average time from injury to accurate diagnosis for hip pain due to labral tears as 21 months.  People with this type of hip pain saw an average of 3.3 providers before definitive treatment was initiaited.  In 17% of their study group of 66 patients, surgery was recommended on a different anatomic site.  Once the correct diagnosis was made and the hip arthroscopy was performed, 89% of the patients were clinically better off than before surgery.  That is positive.

Hip pain can originate from a number of structures and as a result can be easily misdiagnosed.  Low back pain can refer pain to the hip area.  Sacroiliac joint dysfunction can too.  Hip pain can be due to bony problems such as impingement or due to damage to the cartilage structure around the socket, that is the labrum (similar to the shoulder – see an earlier post on this blog).  It can originate from strain or tearing of the lignaments around the hip joint as well as from all the many muscles which control the hip joint.  In addition, pain may originate from the pubic area where the abdominal muscles and the hip adductors attach, commonly called athletic pubalgia or a sports hernia.  Finally, hip pain can be a consequence of referred pain from the leg.

Hip pain is typically localized to the groin area.  It may also be felt laterally over the outside of the hip or in the buttock.  There may be clicking, popping and snapping in the hip joint associated with the pain.  Walking, running, ascending and descending stairs, putting shoes on (figure 4 sitting) and lying on the affected side may be challenging.

Your to do list:

  1. If you have back pain that radiates to the hip area (buttock, side of your leg, groin) ask your doctor or physical therapist to evaluate the hip.  At Custom Physical Therapy we check the hip with every low back pain patient so we do not miss the diagnosis.
  2. Educate yourself on the hip so you can ask questions of your doctor and physical therapist.  Do not let your hip pain get misdiagnosed and take 21 months to be correctly treated.
  3. Call us at Custom Physical Therapy if you have any questions regarding your hip pain.  Mention you are calling with specific questions regarding this post on hip pain.  We can answer your questions.
  4. There are some really top notch hip doctors in Reno, Nevada.  Call us if you want to know who they are.
  5. Please forward this on to your friends, family and coworkers via email, Facebook, Twitter or word of mouth.

Thank you for being part of Custom Physical Therapy.  Here’s to your healthy hips!

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