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Is My Hip Pain From Arthritis or Bursitis?

Your hips have a herculean task: they must support the weight and movement of your entire body while simultaneously allowing for a wide range of motion. Hips accomplish this through a system of complicated biological machinery. However, the complexity of this system brings with it several drawbacks. First, the more moving parts a system has, the more likely a problem may arise. Second, when a problem does arise, it affects the entire system. In the hips, this means finding out what exactly went wrong can be difficult.

Two of the most common issues with the hip are bursitis and arthritis. They are completely different conditions with their own unique causes, yet they exhibit extremely similar symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate which is which.

This article provides information about each condition, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Note that this article is not a substitute for an evaluation from a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms in this article, schedule an appointment with Dr. Steve Hamilton, a hip joint expert at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis refers to pain, inflammation, and stiffness of the joints. The two types of arthritis that commonly affect the hip are osteoarthritis, which is the result of cartilage between joints being worn down over time, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own joints. This article will only focus on osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is typically caused by the natural wear and tear that joints endure over a lifetime of use. Post-traumatic arthritis, which is a specific type of osteoarthritis, may also be caused by a sudden injury, such as a fall.

Symptoms of Hip Arthritis

Hip arthritis may cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Hip pain that’s worst in the morning.
  • Hip pain that worsens after long periods of inactivity.
  • A feeling of locking, sticking, grating, or grinding when moving the upper leg.
  • Stiffness and inflexibility in the hip joint. May cause limping.
  • Pain that starts from within the hip socket and radiates outward. It can be felt in the buttocks, groin, and thigh.

Osteoarthritis is the culmination of many years of joint deterioration. Age, obesity, and frequent strenuous activity all contribute to cartilage breakdown and can lead to the disease.

What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is a condition where bursae, which are fluid-filled sacs that act as extra lubrication for joints, become inflamed and painful. There are 4 bursae on each side of the hip, but only 2 of those are commonly affected by bursitis: the trochanteric (located on the outside point of the hip) and iliopsoas bursae (located near the inside of the groin).


Hip bursitis may cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain that’s felt either on the outside of the hip or near the groin.
  • Pain that starts sharp and intense but fades into a widespread ache later.
  • Pain and stiffness after too much or too little activity.
  • Pain that’s worst at night when laying on the injured hip.
  • Pain that increases with walking, climbing stairs, and squatting.

Bursitis is most common in middle-aged and elderly people, particularly women. Bursitis also frequently affects athletes who run, as overuse of the hip irritates bursae.

Though bursitis typically results from overuse, a sudden injury (such as a fall) can also bring on the condition. Bursitis and arthritis can both develop after a sudden injury, which adds to the challenge of differentiating between the two conditions.

If you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, schedule an appointment with Dr. Hamilton. He can properly diagnose your condition your hip pain and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Do I Have Arthritis or Bursitis?

The key difference between arthritis and bursitis is the anatomical structures that they affect.  Arthritis is a chronic condition that irreparably damages bone, cartilage, and joints, whereas bursitis is a temporary condition that involves the painful swelling of bursae for a time.

Arthritis Bursitis
Pain is worst in the morning. Pain is worst at night.
Symptoms gradually worsen over months and years. Symptoms only last for a few weeks.
Primarily results from wear and tear that occurs over a long period of time. Primarily results from sudden periods of overuse or a traumatic event, such as a fall.
Joint damage is irreversible. Bursae inflammation is temporary.
Symptoms require the attention of a medical professional. Symptoms typically improve with conservative, at-home treatments.

Talk to a Hip Specialist

Whether it’s bursitis, arthritis, or another condition entirely, hip pain can negatively impact your quality of life. If you want to get back to being mobile and pain-free, schedule an appointment with Dr. Steve Hamilton at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Dr. Hamilton is a fellowship-trained surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive joint reconstruction. He has helped hundreds of patients return to the activities they enjoy.