Bursitis or arthritis - what's causing your hip pain?Aches and pains in the joints – particularly knees and hips – as you get older are something that we all expect and many of us choose to live with. Depending on the cause of hip pain, this is sometimes an acceptable choice, but more often than not it could be delaying treatment for a more serious condition.

With the amount of information available to read online, sometimes people will ‘self diagnose’ – and this can be risky. Sometimes even expert medical professionals can misdiagnose, so it clear to see that its very easy to make the wrong assessment when reading up online about what is causing your pain and discomfort. Often conditions share similar symptoms, and an expert assessment is required to ensure it is diagnosed correctly.

For people suffering with painful hip joints, two conditions that share similar symptoms are bursitis and arthritis.

Understanding bursitis

A bursa is a pocket of fluid, which helps lubricate movement when a tendon runs over a bone. Bursitis is the name given to a condition where this pocket of fluid becomes inflamed. This can occur when the area is exposed to unexpected pressure or repetitive stress.

When the bursa becomes inflamed, this causes pain and tenderness over the site of the bursa. In the hip the trochanteric bursa is most often involved and patients have pain over the side of the hip bone. Treatment is initially with physiotherapy and an exercise programme to strengthen the pelvic and core muscles and some patients will need a steroid injection.

Understanding osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and occurs in around one in three people aged 45 and over, and in almost half of people aged 75 years and over. It is a degenerative disease which affects the joints by wearing and breaking down the cartilage around the joints. The hips and knees are often affected by this form of arthritis. If left untreated, it can completely wear away the cartilage around the joints, which is extremely painful and will have a significant impact on mobility.

Getting the correct hip pain diagnosis

When assessing hip pain, experts will be looking for clues to help with diagnosis. Things they will be considering are issues such as the specific area where pain is greatest (for example, bursitis often generates pain on the outside of the lower hip whereas osteoarthritis causes greater pain in the bottom, thigh, groin or actually within the centre of the hip itself).

Another thing they will be looking for is what generates the most pain. With bursitis the pain will feel worse when pressure is applied, for example lying on the side in bed, whereas with osteoarthritis the pain will tend to occur with weight bearing and hip movements. X rays are often helpful in identifying arthritic joints, whereas an MRI scan is likely to be needed to confirm bursitis

Seek an expert opinion

The important thing to remember is that if you’re experiencing any form of hip pain it is crucial to see a specialist sooner rather than later, to arrange the appropriate tests and investigations. The correct diagnosis of whatever is causing your hip discomfort is the first step on the road to treatment – and hopefully recovery. The longer you live with undiagnosed hip pain, the greater the risk that you will be doing more permanent damage to your joints, muscles or cartilage.

If you have discomfort in the hip area and have not yet seen a specialist, book an appointment to see a knee and hip replacement specialist like Mr Simon Bridle who will be able to assess your situation and recommend the most appropriate next steps.