February 17, 2021
There are a few simple joys in life. Hearing the birds chirping in the morning, watching a child laugh, and going for a relaxing stroll. Walking is one of the first things you learn how to do. In fact, taking your first steps as a baby is a momentous occasion. You expect to walk without an issue for most of your life, right? Well, what happens when you start to feel strain or pain in your bones and joints as you simply try to get around from place to place? Forget about a nice walk around the neighborhood or even a casual trip to the store when you can barely move your legs because of stiffness or swelling in your hip joint. Hip pain can drastically affect your life and cause issues as you age.
As you get older, certain systems in your body start to break down. One of the areas where this is most prevalent is with your bones, joints, and tendons. Especially in overused areas of your body, the cartilage between your bones can wear down causing intense pain and discomfort when your joints run up against each other. While some issues can be solved with ibuprofen and rest, there may come a time when you need a physical examination to discover if something more serious is at work. For older adults, you want to live the longest, fullest life you can. Hip pain, especially while walking, is not invited. Take control of your health by understanding the facts and consulting your medical care provider when you are experiencing hip pain. By getting on top of the issue, you can find comfort and work to enjoy those long walks again.
Causes of Hip Pain
Hip pain can be a result of so many different things. The pain itself is more of a symptom of other diseases, trauma, or stiffness than an isolated problem. As you start to consider your own hip pain while walking, you want to get to the root of the issue. This will help your doctors find treatment options for you to help with whatever side of the hip you need correcting. Let’s dive into a few of these reasons you may be feeling hip pain as you age.
One of the most common causes of discomfort in and around your bones and joints is arthritis. There are two forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The first is a result of general wear and tear on your bones. The latter has to do with genetic complications where the body attacks healthy tissue in and around your joints and cartilage. With osteoarthritis, your cartilage wears down between your bones and the joints rub up against each other causing pain and loss of range of motion. This is, unfortunately, an incredibly common disease for older adults to deal with as they age. It can be accompanied by pain that worsens over time, swelling, stiffness, and a lessening of your range of motion.
Another common cause of hip pain may be a lesser-known condition than arthritis. While most people know about cartilage and how joints connect, you may not know about the bursae that help with the connection between tendons and ligaments. Bursae are small sacks of fluid located near your joints to cushion tendons, muscles, and bones. Bursitis is a condition where these sacks of fluid may become inflamed or irritated. This is usually caused by overuse, strain, or repetitive movement. You may feel the painful sensations of bursitis most when you move your leg, walk upstairs, or lie on that hip.
Another part of the body that can get inflamed or irritated is your tendons surrounding your hip and groin area. Tendonitis is a cause of hip pain when your tendons are overused or uncomfortable. Consult your doctor to see if this may be a cause of the aches within your hips.
Breaks and Tears
Of course, sometimes you may experience hip pain from more external factors rather than a breakdown of internal systems. If you deal with any trauma or injury, that can be a cause of hip pain while walking for years to come. Though your hip bone is incredibly large, it can still be fractured or even experience a small sprain. As you age, your bones naturally become weaker and more susceptible to breaks. Therefore one fall can cause trauma and pain for your hips. Depending on your activity level it can take longer for breaks and tears to heal.
Past athletes may also experience issues and pain from past sporting injuries. Unfortunately, you’re not as young as you used to be. A traumatic injury to your hip or legs during your athletic tenure can start to act up or affect your hip health and pain as you age.
Your bones aren’t the only thing that can break. You may also experience painful tears in your ligaments or tendons. Whether it is a labral tear in the hip socket directly or a wearing down of tendons around the hips, rips or tightness in these areas can be a cause of hip pain. Especially while you’re walking and performing a repetitive activity with your hips, these tears can be more pronounced and cause further pain.
Strained Tendons and Ligaments
Even if they don’t tear, overuse of your tendons and ligaments alone can be a cause of hip pain. So that sensation of “I just pulled a muscle”? That is the strained sensation you may feel in this scenario. When you overuse your muscles, especially for older adults, they can become inflamed. This may be a simpler condition to fix as it usually just requires warmth, rest, or stretching of your muscles.
Your muscles are a vital part of your body and they need to be taken care of regularly. It may be a common complaint of those suffering from chronic hip pain that you feel stiffness and soreness above anything else. This is usually a result of having tight muscles. If your activity level goes down as you reach older years of age, you may not be doing as much physical activity as you’re used to. For this reason, your muscles and hip flexors can feel tight when you go out for a walk or stay on your feet for too long. Consider bringing a stretching regiment into your daily routine so you can eliminate any pain, increase blood flow, and stop feelings of numbness.
Cancer or Chronic Issues
Chronic hip pain can rarely be a sign of a much more serious condition. Diseases like bone cancer can cause intense pain within your hips. This will usually be accompanied by pain in other parts of the body as well. This may require an ultrasound or further tests and medical attention to figure out the root cause of the issue. Beyond cancer, hip pain can also be a symptom of chronic pelvic or groin issues. These are rarer causes of hip pain, but it can still be beneficial to ask your doctor about all the possible issues.
Added Symptoms of Hip Pain
As you know, all the systems of your body are incredibly connected. So if you are experiencing hip pain, you may have another type of pain that is troubling you. Especially as you’re out walking, you may have added symptoms as a result of your hip pain depending on the main cause of your discomfort. Your thighs, buttocks, or groin may end up compensating for the breakdown of systems in your hips and hurt in different ways. You may feel the effects of your hip pain even more as you walk.
Chronic pain can cause a limp or exhaustion for you as you try to manage regular activity with a reduced range of motion. The fact is, no issue with your body is isolated, so intense pain in your hips may seep into other areas of your physical health.
How to Find Relief
If you are suffering from chronic hip pain, you are probably desperate for a cure to your ailment. There are plenty of different ways to find relief and get back to a normal daily routine. Depending on the cause of your hip pain and the severity of your symptoms, you can either consult a doctor about treatment options or try some over-the-counter, at-home remedies.
If you are experiencing the most pain while walking, you may want to consider adjusting your walking and exercise habits before trying any intense treatment options. Sometimes the way you walk with different abduction of your hips or iterations of your spine can cause pain. Believe it or not, there are ways to adjust your walking so you can feel more comfortable. Simple fixes like shortening your stride can work wonders. Power walking or using a treadmill can cause you to overextend your strides, therefore putting added strain on your hips. Give them a break by walking at your own pace and taking smaller steps.
You may also be harming your hips by stomping about when you’re not even realizing it. If you’ family or friends have ever complained that you’re always walking around loudly, that may mean you’re putting too much pressure on your hips. Slamming your feet on the ground every time you take a step can’t be good for your joints and bones. Make an effort to walk lightly and give those hip flexors a break.
The last way to adjust your walking habits is to not overexert yourself. When you were younger, you may have been able to finish long hikes up and down hills or walk several laps around the neighborhood. As you begin to notice issues with hip pain, it may be time to change up your routine. Look for flatter walking trails rather than something with a lot of steep hills. And maybe you only do one or two laps today instead of your usual five. These little adjustments will guarantee you’re still getting the activity you need without having to deal with intense pain.
When dealing with osteoporosis, tendonitis, or muscle strain, you can usually come up with some treatments to try at home before you do anything drastic. A strained muscle usually just needs rest or some anti-inflammatory drugs. Plus ibuprofen, Advil, or Tylenol can usually be incredibly beneficial to help with the pain. Try icing the muscles and joints for a few minutes at different points during the day. If that isn’t doing the trick, try the opposite and apply heat with a towel or by taking a warm bath. As you get older, it’s important to keep up with these simple at-home remedies.
Another solution for older adults who suffer from arthritis is daily exercise. This may feel counterintuitive when you experience more pain while walking, but regularly increasing your range of motion and gradually adding more activity to your routine can help alleviate stiffness and inflammation. Try to find exercises, like swimming, that are low impact but can still help your joints and muscles stretch out. This gets your body moving in ways that can alleviate stiffness and soreness.
When to Consult a Doctor
If you aren’t seeing results with your own attempts to cure the problem, it may be time to consult a doctor about more medical treatment options. From steroid shots to surgery, there is a wide range of solutions to try and end your hip pain. Some of the prescribed medications include corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and biological treatments to target the immune system.
In serious cases, it may be time to consider surgical options. When the pain becomes too great to even move, let alone walk, you should consider a total hip replacement or consulting an orthopedic surgeon. This may be necessary after a hip fracture or disfigurement of your joints in that area. Surgery can be risky, especially for individuals in their 80s and 90s. Be sure you have an open conversation with your doctor about the risks and rewards of going through with an intense operation and lengthy recovery process.
Overall, pain in your hips can cause stress and strain on your life in general. Take the steps you need, literally and figuratively to alleviate that pain and get back to a comfortable life.