Arthritis is a general term encompassing various conditions where the joint surface (cartilage) wears out. The cartilage is covered by a tough slick quarter-inch-thick tissue that allows the bones to glide over each other without painful friction. If the cartilage thins or wears out completely, the bone ends rub against each other. Pain results and the hip becomes stiff. This common type of arthritis is called osteoarthritis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four people may develop painful hip arthritis in their lifetime. A family history of arthritis increases the likelihood of developing it, and risk also increases with age, obesity or an injury that puts stress on the hip cartilage.
The first symptom of arthritis may be some discomfort and stiffness in the groin, buttock, or thigh upon wakening in the morning. The pain gets worse with activity and better with rest. As arthritis worsens, rest no longer provides relief, and the hip joint becomes more stiff and inflamed. Sometimes, people experience years of stiffness before the hip becomes painful.
When the cartilage wears away completely, bones rub directly against each other, making movement very painful. This may interfere with the ability to rotate, flex, or extend the hip. If the pain causes a decrease in activity, the muscles controlling the hip joint get weak and this may result in a limp.