The challenges in diagnosing hip pain

If you’ve ever studied a model or picture of how the human body is made up you’ll know just how complex the elements such as our skeleton, muscles, tendons and nerves really are. Our bodies are an intricate mass of interlinked, incredible components that should all work together to enable us to move around effectively. It’s very easy to take this complex structure for granted – until something goes wrong.

If you start to experience pain or discomfort in certain areas of the body it is very easy to diagnose where that pain is coming from and work out how to fix it. However, other areas can be more challenging.

In a recently published article, the phenomenon of ‘hip-spine syndrome’ is explored. Research undertaken by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests it can be very challenging for surgeons to identify whether the cause of patients’ pain stems from the lower part of the spine or the hip, because of the complexity of that area and how pain can spread from one source to another.

For anyone who has suffered with lower back pain it will be easy to relate to just how painful this can be. Discomfort that might start in your back, may soon have travelled to your hips, pelvis, buttocks or groin. You may find other aches and pains arise as you try to alleviate the pain by using different muscle groups or adjusting your posture. This in turn will put stress on different areas of the body as well, while not always fixing the original problem area.

One example of this is if a patient has developed arthritis in the hip joints, this often manifests itself as pain in the lower back, so it can be very hard to isolate the correct cause of the discomfort.

According to Afshin Razi, an American orthopaedic surgeon and clinical assistant professor at NYC Langone Hospital for Joint Diseases, the similarities of these symptoms cause a real headache for surgeons who are trying to help work out the best course of action for patients “in these instances, similar or overlapping symptoms may delay a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”

To add further complications to the scenario, the outcome could be one of a number of quite serious hip or back complaints:

  • Osteoarthritis in the hip joints
  • Pinched nerves
  • Narrowing of the spinal chord
  • Sacroiliac joint disfunction
  • A stress fracture
  • Restricted blood flow to the hips (a condition called osteonecrosis)
  • Cartilage damage in or around the hip joint

Diagnosing hip pain

The complexity of the challenge means that surgeons have to really work hard to establish the cause of the pain so that they can recommend the most appropriate treatment. A comprehensive review of medical history, tests on how patients are walking (gait analysis), testing the alignment of joints, muscle tests and detailed questioning will all help point the diagnosis in the correct direction.

An orthopaedic surgeon that specialises in a specific area of the body is best suited to providing a correct diagnosis and, from there, advising you on the best treatment or procedure to restore optimal quality of life. To arrange a consultation with London hip specialist Mr Simon Bridle, email bridle@fortiusclinic.com or call 020 8947 9524.