The outer edge of the hip socket is lined with a layer of cartilage tissue called the labrum. The labrum helps to reduce friction in the joint and provide stability. If the labrum is torn due to a sports injury, fall, or degenerative condition like arthritis, an individual can experience significant pain, swelling, and loss of mobility. A minor hip labral tear may be able to be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, rest, ice, and flexibility exercises. Severe tears often require surgery to mend the labrum and follow-up physical therapy to regain strength and stability.
In most cases, a hip labral tear occurs because of direct trauma to the hip socket. Tears are common in contact sports like football and accidents that involve falling directly on the joint. They are especially likely in an accident where a joint becomes extended beyond its normal range of motion or even fully dislocated. Repetitive use of the hip in activities like golf and track events can also cause labral tears. In addition, people with structural bone or cartilage disorders, such as Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI) and those with arthritis are at risk of hip problems.
An individual who suffers a minor hip labral tear usually experiences pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint. The hip might constantly ache and feel tender to the touch, and the loss of flexibility can make it difficult to bear weight on the leg when standing. In the case of a serious injury where the labrum completely tears apart, pain is usually sharp and unbearable. A person may become nauseated and find it impossible to put any weight on the leg. Medical evaluation is important to determine the severity of an injury and treatment options.
A physician usually inspects a hip labral tear by feeling the joint and performing diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. X-ray and MRI results give the doctor a clear picture of the severity of cartilage damage. In cases where the labrum is partially torn, the patient is instructed to avoid activity and ice the joint several times a day. He or she might be fitted with a crutch to help take pressure off of the hip socket. The doctor usually recommends strengthening exercises and Over-The-Counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs to further reduce swelling.
If the pain from the tear doesn't get any better after about a month of treatment, or the tear is particularly severe, a surgical procedure known as hip arthroscopy will often be necessary. During the procedure, a surgeon will make a small incision in the side of the hip, insert a tiny camera to observe cartilage damage, and manipulate a small scalpel to cut away deteriorated tissue. The surgeon then mends the labrum back together and sutures the incision. Physical therapy is often necessary following hip arthroscopy to rebuild strength and regain flexibility in the joint. Healing time can vary, but most patients are able to recover in about six months after surgery.