Annie Karp has always lived an active lifestyle. From the age of three, she started dancing ballet and trained intensively until she was fifteen. In college, she went on to teach taught aerobics classes, developed a love for running, and continued to dance recreationally. If that isn’t enough, she even met her husband at the gym!
But in February of 2016, she began to feel a deep pain in both of her hips when she stood up from the dinner table one night. Initially, Annie assumed she had simply pulled a muscle during her workout earlier that day. Little did she know, however, that it would turn into an eleven month ordeal filled with several doctors before she actually found out what was wrong.
The Hip Pain That Wouldn’t Go Away: Annie’s Story
In the first eight months, Annie had made multiple trips to see six different doctors. Even after all of that, none of them could tell her why she was in so much pain.
She first saw an orthopedist who specialized in hip problems. Instead of ordering an x-ray, he watched her walk back an forth. After finding nothing unusual, he referred her to a spine specialist, who also failed to see out of the norm.
Soon after, the pain migrated to her pelvis and she began experiencing spotting between periods. She went to her gynecologist, who discovered a benign ruptured cyst on her ovaries. The gynecologist told Annie that once her cyst was taken care of, the pain should go away relatively quickly. Her initial relief turned to disappointment, however, when there was no change after the cyst was gone.
None of the Suggested Treatments were Working
By now, everything hurt, even sitting. Driving her kids to their various activities was pure agony. Annie visited her chiropractor fifteen times for spine adjustments, none of which took away her pain. She tried dry-needling, a form of acupuncture, again to no avail.
“At that point, we were sort of grasping at straws,” Annie recalls.
She decided she’d had enough of disappointing doctor’s visits, and decided to instead just try to manage the pain and live her life as normally as she could.
“After a while, I just stopped talking about it.” said Annie. “No one wants a whiner or complainer.”
During a visit from Florida that October, Annie’s mother was shocked to find out her daughter was still dealing with hip and pelvic pain, and pushed Annie to see yet another orthopedist.
He prescribed an anti-inflammatory cream to help manage the pain and suggested she get cortisone shots. The morning of her first shot, however, there was a paperwork glitch and she was unable to have it done. Instead, she was sent to see the clinic’s in-house physiotherapist.
When learning of the type of pain Annie was experiencing, the physio immediately asked if she was a dancer, which of course Annie said yes. The physiotherapist replied confidently:
“I know exactly what’s wrong with you… Our doctors can’t help.”
The Fourth and Final Orthopedist
The physiotherapist was certain that Annie was suffering from a hip impingement and sent her to see Dr. Andrew Wolff, an orthopedist who specialized in arthroscopic hip surgery. He sent Annie for her first x-ray, which proved the physiotherapist’s theory to be true: Annie had a cam-type femoroacetubular impingement.
Dr. Wolff was shocked none of the other specialists had picked up on this.
“The x-ray really did tell the whole picture. [Her hip impingement] was not subtle.”
What is a Hip Impingement?
Hip impingements occur when the head of the femur becomes abnormally shaped and no longer fits properly in the hip socket. This prevents the ball-and-socket joint to move smoothly. In Annie’s case, the impingement had shredded her labrum, the band of protective cartilage on the outside of the hip that cushions and stabilizes the joint.
“It was as though my bones were a square peg trying to fit into a round whole,” explained Annie.
Annie had surgery done to reconstruct the labra tissue that had been destroyed and to smooth out the femoral head so that it would fit properly back into its socket. She had her left hip done in January, and her right hip done in March.
Post-surgery, it is highly important that Annie exercise extreme caution when doing any physical activity while she continues to heal. It will most likely be a year before she can run or dance again, and it is a daily struggle for her to fight temptation to overdo it now that her pain is gone.
But, “it’s a series of small victories every day,” she concluded.
What Causes Hip Impingements and Labral Tears?
According to Dr. Wolff, the most common cause of injuries such as this is kids who specialize in sports at a very young age, particularly in hockey, football, soccer and, as we’ve seen, dance.
The extreme positions required in ballet are highly strenuous on the hip joints. Kids who train intensively from a very young age are at great risk of future injury – risks that continue to exist well after their dance careers are over.
“If kids mix up their sports a bit, it might help,” Dr. Wolff noted on how to prevent injuries like Annie’s. “Early subspecialization has not been great for our kids.”
Both Annie and Dr. Wolff encourage parents to allow their kids to participate in a variety of sports and not to specialize too early on. Not only will this help prevent injuries to overworked muscles, bones, and joints, but it will also help them to develop a variety of skills and discover what they like and what they are good at.
What to Do When You Think You Have a Hip Impingement
As Dr. Wolff said, not all impingements are actually bone-related. In fact, they don’t all cause labral tears or pain, but they can still be uncomfortable and can effect your ability to perform daily activities. Check out this video to learn more about other possible reasons for your hip problems and what you can do to solve it without surgery:
Annie was extremely fortunate that her problem was fixable, especially considering how long it took to receive a proper diagnosis. Though not everyone who has a hip impingement will experience pain or resulting tears like Annie did, it is important to monitor how your body is feeling. If you experience any type of restriction in or discomfort in a joint, see your doctor right away to prevent prolonged suffering and potential irreversible damage. The sooner the better.
If you’re looking for other ways to protect your joints, try Glucosamine. As we age, the amount Glucosamine our body can produce decreases. Supplementation may be useful in promoting overall good joint health.