Howard J Kapp, Orthopedic Surgeon

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Hip Joint Overview

A healthy hip joint is one of the strongest and most stable articulations in the body. Your hip is a ball and socket joint, and is the largest weight bearing joint in the body. It includes the head (ball) of your thigh bone, or femur, where it joins with your pelvis, or acetabulum (socket). The hip is surrounded by muscles and ligaments. A dense, fibrous capsule, which encloses the joint like an envelope, helps hold the femoral head and acetabulum together. These soft tissues, which surround and unite the hip joint, are crucial to its stability.

The surface of the hip joint is cartilage. It is this cartilage which is worn out and destroyed in the process of arthritis. Most arthritis occurs because the hip joint was not formed exactly correctly, and since the two surfaces are not exactly congruent, the cartilage wears out over time. This is essentially a mechanical problem and not a biological disease, such as diabetes or heart disease. The treatment for arthritis in its early stages is medication and exercise. When it becomes terminal arthritis with complete loss of the cartilage, then there is bone rubbing against bone. This causes significant enough pain and stiffness that patients elect to have the surgery of total hip replacement. Most commonly for patients, the reason for surgery is a decrease in their function as well as their inability to withstand the pain.