Hip pain in the pre-arthritic patient: a guide for the primary care physician.
The history should begin with a detailed account of the onset of symptoms, noting any antecedent traumatic events or change in activities. The patient should be instructed to carefully map out the distribution and quality of pain as this information may help narrow the differential (Figure 1). Sudden onset of pain brought on by a non-contact rotational movement with the foot firmly planted on the ground most commonly suggests a joint sprain or muscle strain, though a more severe mechanism may suggest a tear in the ring of cartilage that lines the rim of the hip socket, called the labrum. A medially directed blow to the lateral hip, sustained in a fall or during play in contact sports, typically results in soft tissue contusion ("hip pointer") with higher energy injuries concerning for articular cartilage injury, or rarely, fractures. (1) Sudden onset groin pain with the sensation of a "pop" while kicking should raise suspicion for an avulsion fracture of the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) or anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS) in the kicking leg and labral injury in the planted leg. (2) In the absence of a traumatic event, acute onset groin pain should raise suspicion for gastrointestinal or genitourinary diagnoses with referred pain to the hip.
Pain that develops insidiously over the course of several months should raise suspicion for an overuse phenomenon such as bursitis or tendonitis, commonly involving the hip flexors, hamstrings, and adductors. (3) Most such patients describe pain upon initiating the offending activity that improves after the warm-up phase only to decompensate with more strenuous activities. In contrast, insufficiency fractures or stress reactions exhibit no such transient improvement and progressively worsen with all load bearing activities. (4,5) Patients with a symptomatic stress reaction typically report an antecedent increase in the duration and/or frequency of activities, as in training for a marathon or returning to sport after a period of non-participation, and fail to take proper measures to condition themselves beforehand.
Painful audible snapping about the anterior/medial groin is typically due to a tight iliopsoas and manifests when the patient actively moves the hip from flexion to extension (internal snapping hip). (6) Alternatively, painful visible snapping about the lateral aspect of the hip due to a tight iliotibial band (ITB) manifests when the patient is asked to circumduct the pelvis as if using a hula hoop, provoking the anterior/posterior snapping of the ITB over the greater trochanter (external snapping hip). (7,8) Painless snapping is relatively common in the athletic population and does not warrant treatment.
Patients with femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) typically present after three to six months of activity related groin pain, which is occasionally accompanied by reproducible clicking or popping due to a labral tear. FAI is very common and present in up to 25% of males with a 95% prevalence of hip shape abnormality in American college football players. (9) It is clear that early recognition, referral and treatment of this problem improve outcomes and activity levels. (10,11) The impingement is multifactorial and typically results from excessive bone about the femoral head/neck junction, excessively deep/malaligned acetabulum (hip socket), rotational malalignment of the extremity, or any combination of the above.12 The pain from FAI is most commonly reported in the groin (88%), and less frequently localized to about the lateral hip and anterior thigh.13 Rarely, certain childhood disorders such as Legg-Calve-Perthes disease or slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) may result in FAI later in life. Pain is brought on by activities involving repetitive hip flexion, especially with adduction and internal rotation, precipitating a conflict between the rim of the acetabulum and the femoral head/neck junction. With repetitive activities, this bony abutment results in progressive tearing of the interposed labrum and subsequent delamination of the acetabular articular cartilage. Pain is typically worsened with load bearing rotational activities, stair ambulation, or prolonged sitting and abates with rest. (13) Patients characteristically cup the outer aspect of the trochanter with their thumb and forefingers making the shape of a C to indicate that the location of the pain is deep seated within the hip ("C--sign"). The presence of constant aching pain, especially at night, may indicate that articular cartilage damage has already occurred and is a poor prognostic sign for successful joint preserving treatment.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Hip dysplasia is a congenital disorder wherein the acetabulum is volumetrically deficient and provides inadequate bony coverage to house the femoral head. As such, it is often regarded as being on the opposite end of the spectrum from FAI, although in many instances the two disorders may coexist. (14) Dysplastic patients may be born with partially or completely dislocated hips. Prompt identification and treatment with bracing or casting is often sufficient to restore normal growth and development. The patient's parents may provide key elements of their early childhood history to clue the physician into an underlying diagnosis of dysplasia. (15) In less severe cases, the diagnosis may go unrecognized until adolescence at which time the patient may develop insidiously worsening groin pain with mechanical symptoms due to excessive laxity and inadequate bony coverage. In these intermediate cases, the secondary soft tissue stabilizers including the labrum and iliopsoas tendon assume a more important role in providing coverage for the hip and suffer overuse injuries including tearing and tendonitis, respectively. With continued instability, shear forces across the acetabular articular cartilage may result in early and irreversible degenerative changes. Similar to FAI, dysplastic patients with constant aching arthritic pain fare worse with joint preserving treatment options.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
In this article we outline a simple and focused physical examination that is of great practical value in the primary care setting. In the retrospective study conducted by Byrd and Jones, 40 patients had clinical assessment and focused physical examination with definitive diagnosis of intra-articular hip pathology confirmed with magnetic resonance imaging and hip arthroscopy. They reported that the clinical assessment/focused physical exam was great for determining the existence of the intra-articular hip pathology with a reported 98% sensitivity. (16) The overarching intent of the focused exam is to ensure timely recognition of consequential diagnoses, preventing the morbidity of delayed referral to an orthopaedic specialist. A secondary goal is to empower family physicians to initiate conservative management for relatively common benign diagnoses.
By taking an active role in treating these disorders, primary care physicians can ensure that severe cases, appropriate for referral, will be evaluated in a more timely fashion.
The examination is begun with an attempt to discern whether the pain is coming from an intra-articular (FAI, labral tear, cartilage injury, etc.) or extra-articular diagnosis (muscle/tendon strains, snapping hip, referred pain). (17) One of the most sensitive findings for true intraarticular hip disease is decreased or painful internal rotation of the affected hip as compared to the unaffected side. The patient is seated on the exam table with knees flexed. The examiner gently internally rotates the affected hip by stabilizing the knee and pushing laterally on the foot until moderate resistance is encountered or the patient cannot tolerate further motion due to pain. The position of the leg relative to the vertical axis acts as a goniometer allowing a crude visual estimation of the degrees of internal rotation. A side-to-side difference greater than 15 degrees, especially if the patient's pain is reproduced at terminal internal rotation, is highly suggestive of true intra-articular hip disease (Figure 2A). A second highly sensitive finding in patients with intra-articular hip disease is pain with resisted straight-leg-raise, also known as a positive Stinchfield maneuver. (18) The patient, positioned supine on the exam table, is instructed to actively raise the leg with the knee extended. The examiner then applies downward pressure on the leg while the patient resists by flexing the hip. Pain with this maneuver, especially if localized to the anterior hip or groin, is highly suggestive of intra-articular pathology. Lastly, if the patient experiences painful popping or clicking with either of the above maneuvers, one should suspect structural injury to the labrum or articular cartilage. (19)
The patient's gait pattern can reveal much about the severity and nature of the underlying diagnosis. (3) The typical young patient with hip pathology will ambulate with a rather unremarkable gait.
Any discernible limp or lurch is concerning for stress fracture/ reaction, structural injury, or severe muscle or tendon injury including partial/complete tear. Hip flexor tendonitis or strain may present with a shortened stride length on the unaffected side due to limited hip extension on the affected side. Abductor weakness or tendonitis typically manifests in a drop of the unaffected hip while standing on the affected side (Trendelenburg sign) or in a lurch to the affected side.
Proper radiographic evaluation of the hip requires specialized views with which most x-ray technicians are unfamiliar. As such, we recommend obtaining simple screening x-rays including AP pelvis and dedicated AP/frog-leg lateral of the affected hip only if the physician suspects a diagnosis of arthritis or acute fracture. Given the subtle nature of most radiographic findings associated with pre-arthritic hip pain, the specialized views are best left for the orthopaedist to obtain and interpret. Similarly, advanced imaging with MRI, CT, or bone scan should be deferred to the expertise of the orthopaedic surgeon to reduce cost and radiation exposure for the patient.
Criteria for Referral
Certain "red flags" prompt referral to an orthopaedic surgeon without delay (Table 1). Competitive athletes require an accelerated approach to diagnosis and treatment in order to minimize time away from sport.
In the setting of a high energy traumatic event, superficial soft-tissue contusions and joint sprains confound the evaluation making it more difficult to identify underlying bony or cartilaginous injury. Any indication of an unstable cartilage tear, as suggested by the presence of sharp and severe groin pain with associated mechanical symptoms (e.g. clicking, catching, locking, giving way) prompts early referral. If a patient who ambulates at baseline develops a significant limp or inability to bear weight, keep a low threshold for referral as most benign diagnoses do not preclude normal ambulation. Referral to a GI or GU specialist may be warranted for cases of referred pain to the groin. Lastly, any patient with painful range of motion, difficulty bearing weight, and fevers/chills should be referred to the emergency department for evaluation to rule out septic arthritis.
The vast majority of patients may be safely treated with conservative management appropriate for the underlying diagnosis. Patients suspected of having an overuse injury (muscle/tendon strain, bursitis, stress reaction, etc.) should be instructed to reduce participation in the offending activity, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) regularly for a period of 1-2 weeks, and visit a physical therapist for gentle stretching exercises and modalities to reduce inflammation. Therapists should be instructed to focus stretching on the ITB, adductors, and hip flexors. Strengthening may be gradually instituted when pain has improved and return-to-activity may be planned when the patient is appropriately conditioned. Important muscle groups to focus on for strengthening include hip abductors, gluteus maximus, and the core abdominal musculature.
A maintenance home exercise program, including stretching, is paramount to prevent recurrence. Patients whose pain persists for 6 weeks or longer despite these conservative measures are appropriate for referral to an orthopaedic surgeon.
This article highlights common diagnoses for young adults with pre-arthritic hip pain in an effort to demystify the evaluative process.
By providing clear criteria for referral to an orthopaedic surgeon, we aim to empower primary care and family practice physicians to safely initiate conservative treatment when appropriate. Ultimately, this practice will reduce costs and time delays associated with orthopaedic consultation for common and benign injuries while ensuring that patients with more severe diagnoses are seen in a timely fashion.
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(4.) Thomas A, Mason F, Deshpande S. An unusual presentation of femoral neck fracture in a young patient. Journal of surgical case reports. 2014; 2014(12).
(5.) Lin JC, Wu CC, Lo C, et al. Mortality and complications of hip fracture in young adults: a nationwide population-based cohort study. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2014; 15:362.
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Yusif Mohammed, MSII
Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, Marshall University
Zain N. Qazi, MD
Orthopaedic Research Fellow, Marshall University
Franklin D. Shuler, MD, PhD
Professor, Orthopaedic Trauma Vice Chairman, Orthopaedic Research Medical Director, Senior Fracture Program, Marshall University
Tigran Garabekyan, MD
Assistant Professor, Assistant Program Director, Marshall University, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Corresponding Author: Franklin D. Shuler MD, PhD, Marshall University, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, 1600 Medical Center Drive, Suite G-500, Huntington, WV 25701. Efirstname.lastname@example.org
Table 1: Red flags prompting early referral Criteria for Early Referral Competitive athlete (High functional demand) High energy trauma (MVC, FFH) Sharp and severe groin pain with mechanical symptoms (clicking, catching, locking, giving way) Significant limp or inability to bear weight Painful passive ROM, pain with weight bearing, fever/chills Suspicion for referred GI/GU pain MVC--motor vehicle collision, FFH--Fall from height, ROM Range of motion, GI--Gastrointestinal, GU--Genitourinary Table 2 (1,15,20-23): Conservative management for hip disorder Conservative Management Disorder Treatment Notes Iliac Crest Rest, Ice, NSAIDs *, Anesthetic injection Contusion Rehabilitation, may be considered for Injection rapid return to play in competitive athletes Avulsion Protected weight fracture bearing up to 6 weeks with hip in flexion for 2 weeks, Ice, NSAIDs*, PT/ROM with rehabilitation Trochanteric Activity modification, Conservative care cures Bursitis PT, Weight loss, NSAID, 90% Steroid injection(s)** Tendonitis Activity modification, Consider etiology: NSAIDs*, Steroid overuse, age, injection** of limited vascularity. Discuss volume expectations (chronic pain), avoid immobilization Coxa Saltans Same as tendonitis, Painless requires "Snapping Stretching, Steroid assurance. Remain hip" injection** active below threshold for symptoms Femoroacetabular Activity modification, If injection provides Impingement avoid positions of transient relief, do (FAI) impingement (deep not delay surgical flexion), NSAIDs*, PT, treatment so as to diagnostic prevent onset of corticosteroid arthritis injection** Dysplastic Hip Referral to a Early referral is key specialist * Monitorfor NSAID side effects (Gl ulcer, nephrotoxicity, and hepatotoxicity) ** Steroid injection after other modalities have failed and for acute exacerbation of symptoms. Maximum of 2-3 with 3 months between (monitorfor hyperglycemia, connective tissue atrophy). Steroid injection for snapping hip currently has little evidence based support.
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|Title Annotation:||FOCUS: Primary Care|
|Author:||Mohammed, Yusif; Qazi, Zain N.; Shuler, Franklin D.; Garabekyan, Tigran|
|Publication:||West Virginia Medical Journal|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2016|
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