Repairing Hip Cartilage Surgically in Young Patients Can Ward Off Future Arthritis

Northwestern Medicine
Orthopaedics November 08, 2019
Hesitant at first to join her family’s affinity for distance running, 16-year old Emma Dixon, of Wheaton, was soon hooked. However, a painful hip threatened to derail her newfound passion. Following arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, Dixon is eager to get back out on the running trail.

“In young adults and teens, the most common cause of hip pain that occurs within the joint is due to femoral acetabular impingement syndrome, or FAIS,” said Sanjeev Bhatia, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and co-director of the Northwestern Medicine Hip and Knee Joint Preservation Center at Central DuPage Hospital. “Subtle bone spurs interrupt the smooth motion of the ball and socket and can lead to labral tears and early cartilage damage.”

The hip labrum is a ring of cartilage that forms a tight seal around the rim of the hip socket. It is important for joint health as it preserves a fluid seal within the hip joint that is critical for hip stability and reducing pressure on the cartilage surfaces. If left untreated, damage to the labrum can lead to severe hip arthritis and the need for hip replacement surgery later in life.

“Even with advances in hip replacement surgery, there is no substitute for the original joint,” said Dr. Bhatia. “Patients with hip pain that lingers more than two to three weeks should seek out a proper diagnosis so that we can implement the best treatment sooner than later.”

After conservative treatments, including physical therapy and medications, failed to resolve Dixon’s pain, she elected to undergo a hip arthroscopy. Using minimally-invasive instruments and a small camera inserted through half-inch incisions into the joint, Dr. Bhatia removed the bone spurs and sewed the labrum back to its proper position around the rim of the hip socket.

“Dr. Bhatia was super chill,” said Dixon. “He took the time to fully explain the procedure and recovery plan so that I felt confident I would return to my running team. I can’t wait to start running competitively again.”

Following several months of post-surgical physical therapy, Dixon is now easing back into running with hopes of working up to her personal best of a 12 minute 15 second 2-mile race during the next track season at Wheaton-Warrenville High School.

“Hip arthroscopy is the fastest growing procedure in orthopedic surgery because when it is done correctly it has a very high success rate at relieving pain from hip impingement and labral tears,” said Dr. Bhatia. “Most patients can return to sport and full activity within four to six months.”

Kim and Emma manual therapy

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