Your hips are among your body’s most important physical features. Your hip joints enable you to perform routine actions such as standing, walking, or bending. They also maintain the body’s posture and balance. Any type of hip problem can result in significant pain and disability.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. It connects the thigh bone, which is technically called the femur, and the hip bone, also known as the pelvis.
The hip’s joint socket is protected by a structure called the labrum, which is a collection of soft tissue known as cartilage. The labrum performs certain important tasks. First, it shelters the hip joint from shock and abuse when the hip moves. Additionally, the material ensures the hip’s ball remains in place, which keeps the thigh bone properly attached and healthy.
Acute events or developing injuries and disease can weaken the labrum resulting in damage like tears and eventually bothersome or life-limiting symptoms. Labral tears are divided into two specific types:
- Anterior Hip Labral Tears: This type of injury occurs when the damage happens in front of the hip joint. This is the most common type of labral tear.
- Posterior Hip Labral Tears: These injuries can be felt at the hip joint’s rear side.
Hip labral tears can result from several different causes. In some instances, hip deformities developed either before or after you were born could damage labral tissue.
Common underlying deformities include:
- Hip Dysplasia: When the hip socket fails to cover the thigh bone completely.
- Abnormal Bone Development: When your hip or surrounding bones fail to grow properly, and your labral tissue is at an increased risk for injury.
Other causes for hip labral tears include:
- Trauma: Sudden accidents causing sudden impact to the hip joint, or which force the hip joint to shift unusually could result in hip labral tears.
- Illnesses: Sometimes diseases like arthritis can eat away at the hip joint. Over time, the disease process gradually damages labral tissue. Continued deterioration eventually leads to labral tears.
- Normal Movement and Aging: As you age, everyday movements performed by the hip can cause a decline in tissue strength and performance.
- Athletic Activity: Many sports place significant pressure on the hips and move them forcefully and awkwardly. These injuries are especially common in athletic contests such as long-distance running, golf, football, softball, hockey, soccer, and baseball. A labral tear’s specific location will depend on its underlying cause. For example, anterior injuries most often result from athletic competition. Posterior damages are typically caused by sudden events like automobile accidents and significant falls.
Your risk of developing hip labral tears increases if you are an athlete, work in a job requiring continual unusual movements, or have some type of existing hip injury or deformity.
The most noticeable labral tear symptom is pain. This discomfort is usually felt in the hip or groin. Your pain will worsen when you walk, stand, exercise, or engage in any type of physical activity involving your hips for extended periods.
You might also notice a clicking or popping sound when you walk or stretch the affected hip. In other instances, you might feel that your hip locks or grows stiff after sitting for prolonged times. As the problem progresses, your hip may become more difficult to move.
You may not feel any symptoms at all. Certain labral tears do not cause any pain or other associated issues until the injury has progressed to a more advanced stage.
If not treated as early as possible, labral tears can worsen and lead to greater pain and mobility issues. Untreated cases increase your risk of developing other painful and movement-restricting problems like arthritis.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
You should seek help for pain and other related symptoms if they last several days. Discomfort lingering for any length of time can indicate an injury requiring treatment. You should schedule an appointment right away if pain or other concerns are severe.
Your doctor will often begin the diagnostic process by asking you several questions, including:
- When did your discomfort start?
- Do any activities make the pain worse?
- Do you play any sports?
- Are you employed in a physically demanding profession?
- Were you recently involved in an accident?
After getting your answers, your doctor may then ask you to flex your leg or hip to help test your pain threshold and mobility range.
If the previous efforts are not enough to confirm their suspicions, they will probably order one or more internal imaging tests. X-rays and MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can help rule out other problems capable of causing similar symptoms and identify specific joint abnormalities or soft tissue damage.
Your doctor might also perform an anesthesia injection. They will directly ingest anesthetic medications into your hip’s joint space during this procedure. If your pain lessens, there is a good chance you have some type of problem within the joint, like a labral tear.
Hip labral tears do not improve on their own. Some type of medical treatment will be required to ease associated symptoms or prevent worsening. The specific treatment suggested by your doctor will depend on the tear’s severity and other factors such as your age, general health, level of physical activity, and the presence of any other hip or physical concerns.
The symptoms caused by minor tears can usually be kept in check, provided you rest the injured hip as much as possible. The pain often produced by more moderate tears might be lessened through steroid injections and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
You may also benefit from physical therapy. This treatment, sometimes abbreviated as PT, is a collection of individualized exercises that are geared towards strengthening your injured hip and preventing it from losing its motion range.
More serious tears may need surgery. The three most common surgical procedures include:
- Debridement: During this process, surgeons take out a small part of the labrum. This procedure is often undertaken to ease the pressure placed on nearby structures by damaged labral tissue.
- Repair: Known medically as refixation, surgeons sew pieces of damaged labral tissue back together.
- Reconstruction: Reconstruction is usually the most in-depth procedure. This involves replacing damaged labral tissue with cartilage found in other body parts or tissue donors.
Everyone heals at their own rate. Recovery time frames are estimated averages and depend on the condition’s severity and its underlying cause.
Simple tears may be repaired by rest and home care therapies. They are less likely to worsen or need more aggressive treatment. In many instances, simple fixes often improve symptoms of minor tears in a few days to a couple of weeks.
If you undergo a surgical procedure, you should expect it to take anywhere from four to six months before you fully recover and be permitted to return to prior physical activities.
Should your labral tear result from an illness like arthritis, addressing the disease in question is necessary to help the existing tear and prevent recurrences.
Injuries caused by sudden traumatic events cannot be prevented. But you can reduce your chances of developing those that form over time by following preventative tips like performing leg and hip-strengthening exercises and stretching before any type of physical activity.
If you have been diagnosed with or are experiencing the symptoms of hip labral tear, please contact us. Dr. Howard has extensive experience diagnosing and treating many hip labral tears.
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