The hip is a ball and socket joint, with a bony socket (acetabulum) and a ball joint (femoral head) on top of the thigh (femur). The socket is deepened and the hip is kept stable by a cartilage ring, called the labrum, which helps to enclose the femoral head. The hip is further stabilised by the surrounding muscles, including the gluteal and abductor (buttock) muscles.
Arthritis commonly affects the hip joint. When this happens, the smooth articular cartilage that covers the ball and socket is damaged, and the hip typically gives you pain around the groin, the front of the thigh heading down to the knee, or around the top of the thigh into the buttock.
There are measures that you can take to improve this pain before considering surgery. Regular painkillers, the use of a stick in the opposite hand and shock-absorbing insoles can all help with pain. It is important to keep active and mobile. Some patients find benefit with supplements such as glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin although the evidence for this is mixed. In the early stages of arthritis, a steroid injection into the hip can give good pain relief. Once the arthritic change becomes widespread, the only surgical solution is a total hip replacement. As a rough guide, this should be considered when you have pain at night, you would struggle to walk a mile, and your life feels on hold.