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3 Tips for Runners with Hip Osteoarthritis

Updated: Oct 28

Have you been told that you have osteoarthritis in your hips but would like to continue running? You’re not alone – there are loads of runners in the same situation. In this article I share some tips that have helped my patients.



In this article:

  • Anatomy of the hip joint

  • What is hip osteo-arthritis?

  • 3 Tips for runners with hip osteoarthritis

I also explain this in a bit more detail in this video:



Anatomy of the hip joint


Our hip joints are synovial joints. The top end of the femur (the ball) fits snugly into its socket (the acetabulum) on the pelvis. The joint surfaces are covered in very smooth cartilage. The hip joint is surrounded by a thick capsule that’s lined with a membrane that produces synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint surfaces and makes them even more slippery.


The joint surfaces get all their nutrients from the synovial fluid. Joints don’t have arteries and veins going into them – they rely on movement to push fluid and nutrients in and out of the joint. This is why joints feel stiff when you don’t move them enough. I discuss this in more detail in the above video.



What is hip osteoarthritis?


Osteoarthritis is often described as “normal wear and tear” of joints. We all show some signs of osteoarthritis as we age, but how much our joints are affected varies dramatically from person to person. Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to it. Injuries that you sustain when you’re younger can also cause a specific joint to develop arthritis while your other joints may still be in good nick.


Osteoarthritis is graded from minor to severe. Changes affect all parts of the joint:

  • Cartilage damage: In minor cases the cartilage will just have some tiny cracks. In severe cases, the joint cartilage may be totally worn away.

  • Bones: The bones can form bony spikes or osteophytes.

  • Synovial membrane: The membrane becomes thickened and produces lots of fluid.

  • Joint Capsule: The joint capsule can become thickened and tight.

  • Inflammation: The joint can experience periods of active inflammation where it feels extra painful and stiff.


3 Tips for runners with hip osteoarthritis


Tip 1: Maintain flexibility


One of the things that tend to happen to a hip joint with osteoarthritis is that it gradually becomes stiff and loses its range of motion. This causes your body to compensate when you run and place more strain on other structures in your legs.


If you have osteoarthritis in your hips, it will stand you in good stead if you can get into the habit of doing regular flexibility exercises for them. I demonstrate 4 basic stretches in the video. BE GENTLE when you stretch. Depending on what part of your joint is affected, you may not be able to move your hip very far into certain directions. You should only feel a sensation of a muscle stretching – no pain during or after stretching!



Tip 2: Strengthen all the muscles in your legs


The muscles that surround your hip joint is supposed to absorb up to 60% of the forces that you generate when you run. The stronger the muscles, the less strain on your joint. But you should really strengthen ALL the muscles in your legs because they should all help to absorb the load. Here are some strength training ideas.


Tip 3: Add some cross training


Some of my patients with hip osteoarthritis find that their hips tolerate running better if they add in some cross training sessions like cycling and/or swimming. This is likely because the cross training sessions help their joints to recover better from your running sessions.


Remember that joints don’t have arteries going into them and that they rely on movement to get the fluid and nutrients in and out of them? When you swim and cycle you move your joints a lot, but without impact. This means that you’re “feeding” your joints without putting them under much strain which helps their recovery.


Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.


Best wishes

Maryke


About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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