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Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Hips: Symptoms and Treatments

Posted on February 25, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Although rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to affect the smaller joints in the hands, wrists, and knees, it can affect many different parts of the body. For some people, RA affects the larger joints in the hips, causing discomfort and stiffness and impacting quality of life.

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissues, causing joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. The condition is associated with a variety of symptoms when it affects the hips. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help bring some relief to your hips and surrounding regions.

What Does RA in the Hips Feel Like?

RA typically affects the body symmetrically, meaning it involves the same or similar joints on both sides of the body. However, it is possible to have just one hip affected by RA.

Symptoms can extend beyond the hips themselves. Pain related to hip arthritis can also occur in the groin, buttocks, knee, or outer thigh. In some cases, it may radiate down the inside of the leg. One myRAteam member wrote that their “hips, legs, and lower back” all hurt at the same time.

This pain in the hips and surrounding areas may feel dull and achy and worsen with vigorous physical activity or after sitting, resting, or sleeping for extended periods of time. In some people, pain may come and go, eventually becoming more frequent as the disease progresses. Members of myRAteam have described their hip pain as throbbing and unbearable.

The pain, stiffness, and swelling that accompanies RA can cause many difficulties in daily life. Along with pain, RA in the hips can cause the joints to lock, stick, or make grinding noises during movement (known as crepitus). Some people have trouble walking as far as they used to, while others have trouble walking no matter the distance. Pain, stiffness, and swelling in the hips can decrease a person’s range of motion or cause them to walk with a limp.

RA in the hips can even make sleeping difficult. One myRAteam member described their hips as their “number one issue,” making it “impossible” to sleep on their side.

Many different types of arthritis can cause hip symptoms, including osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis, so talk to your doctor if you experience any discomfort or swelling in your hips. They will be able to provide you with the right diagnosis and treatment.

Pain Management and Treatment Options for RA in the Hips

RA that affects the hips can have a significant impact on your ability to perform everyday tasks. If you’re experiencing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in your hips, talk to your doctor about finding the right combination of treatments to alleviate pain and reduce swelling.

Medications

There are several medications available for treating rheumatoid arthritis and managing pain in the hip joints. Your doctor may recommend a combination of systemic drugs — which treat the underlying disease — along with over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

NSAIDs can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation caused by RA. These drugs include over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen (Advil), as well as other options available by prescription.

Systemic Arthritis Medications

Systemic medications — which include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics — work by slowing disease progression and preventing joint deformities. These medications treat the underlying inflammatory response that causes RA, helping to alleviate symptoms.

Steroid Injections

If you’re experiencing a flare-up of RA symptoms in your hips, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid injections. Steroids, as they’re also called, are mainly used in the short term to control RA symptoms during disease flares. Keep in mind that local injections may cause temporary discomfort. “I had injections in my hips. The pain is worse,” shared one myRAteam member.

Surgery

Research has shown people have successfully used biologics as part of their RA treatment to avoid requiring total hip replacement surgeries. That said, some people with RA may still need hip surgery. Hip replacement surgery is often the procedure of choice.

Generally, a doctor may recommend surgery if nonsurgical options do not provide sufficient relief from RA pain. The type of surgery they recommend will likely depend on several factors, including your age, the condition of your hip joint, and the progression of your RA.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Your rheumatologist may recommend physical therapy to help improve flexibility, strength, and range of motion. An occupational therapist can help you make adjustments in your environment and everyday tasks to reduce pain and discomfort during activities.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Both heat and cold can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Heat therapy helps loosen the muscles around the joint and increase flexibility and circulation, while cold reduces inflammation and dulls pain.

For hot therapy, the Cleveland Clinic recommends showering or soaking in a warm bath for 20 minutes or using a heating pad. Applying a moist dishcloth warmed in the microwave for 20 seconds can work in the same way.

Cold therapy can be applied for 20 minutes at a time using a gel-filled ice pack, frozen peas, or a baggie filled with ice.

Find Your Community

By joining myRAteam, you can become a part of a social network for people living with RA and their loved ones. There, more than 191,000 members come together to offer support, give advice, and share stories of everyday life with rheumatoid arthritis. Many myRAteam members discuss hip pain and the ways they manage it.

Have you experienced RA symptoms in your hips? What have you used to alleviate pain, swelling, or stiffness? Share your tips in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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