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What is the Hip Joint?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

The hip joint is a joint formed by the articulation of the femur, the long bone in the leg, with the pelvis. This joint serves a number of functions in the human body and it is one of the strongest and most durable joints. The hip is designed to bear considerable stress and pressure. The hip is also one of the areas of the human body which exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the hips of men and women being designed slightly differently as a result of the need to accommodate pregnancy and childbirth for women.

This joint is also known as the coxa or the acetabulofemoral joint. It is a ball and socket joint, with the head of the femur being inserted into a socket formed by the bones of the pelvis. In adults, the bones of the pelvis have completely fused, adding stability to the joint, while in children, the fusing of the pelvis is not yet complete. In another example of differences between men and women, in women, the cartilage which connects the bones in the pelvis is designed to soften during pregnancy to allow the bones to pull apart slightly, which destabilizes the hip joint and accounts for the distinctive gait women acquire during pregnancy.

The bones in the hip joint are covered in a layer of hyaline cartilage, also known as articular cartilage. This cartilage is smooth and very durable, designed to move without friction and to hold up under compression, stress, and pressure. The bones of the joint are further stabilized with ligaments and muscles which hold the bones in place and allow the hip a full range of movement.

One of the primary functions of the hip joint is to stabilize the body. The human body has needed to develop considerable adaptations in order to walk upright, and the hip joint is one of the most critical of these adaptations, stabilizing the body and distributing the weight of the upper body to the legs evenly. The joint provides stability when someone is stationary or walking, which is one reason why it needs a network of ligaments for support.

The hip joint also, of course, provides a range of motion for the leg. The ball and socket design allows the femur to move in a variety of directions, with some people such as dancers and yoga practitioners developing even more range of motion. This range of movement allows people to walk, run, and engage in a variety of other activities with the legs.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On Jan 15, 2012

@honeybees - My dad had hip joint surgery and has done very well. He is able to do all the activities he was limited to before and the biggest thing is he doesn't have the ongoing pain.

My uncle also had hip surgery replacement, but was not faithful with his physical therapy exercises after the surgery. I have heard that being consistent with these exercises is key to a good recovery.

He isn't really in a lot of pain but walks with a funny gait ever since he had the surgery done. I can't say this is the only reason people have troubles have a hip surgery, but was certainly the case for my uncle.

My dad, on the other hand, was very faithful and consistent with his exercises and has not had any troubles at all.

By honeybees — On Jan 14, 2012

My husband is a candidate for a hip joint replacement. Most of his working years have been in construction and he has developed hip joint arthritis in both hips.

He is putting off having surgery done as long as he can. I would think he would get tired of the hip joint pain, but he doesn't want to be laid up for very long.

I think the thought of this is what keeps him from going ahead with the surgery. He has talked to many people who have had this done and hears mixed results.

Some people feel better than they have in years and wish they had it done sooner. Others haven't had such good results, and I think this is another reason why he hesitates to get his hips replaced. He doesn't want to be in worse shape than we was before the surgery.

By SarahSon — On Jan 13, 2012

I had never given much thought to how important my hip joints were until they started giving me trouble. I have osteoarthritis in my hip joint on one side, and can really feel it when I am overactive.

I love to garden, bike and work outside in the yard. I also love to go dancing on the weekends when I have a chance. Every once in awhile when I am dancing away, my hip joint catches.

This has probably made for some interesting moves on the dance floor. I am one of the youngest people there, so I imagine nobody has probably noticed much. Most of them probably have hip joint symptoms similar to mine anyway.

By andee — On Jan 13, 2012

@Starjo - I don't know how much of a difference hip joint destabilization makes when it comes to pain in childbirth.

I've had three kids, and the childbirth experience wasn't the same with any of them. What I did find to be true was as soon as you hold that baby in your arms for the first time, you forget about any of the pain.

There must be some truth to this for some women though. One of my college roommates married the son of a gynecologist. This doctor told his son that his wife had good hips for giving birth.

At the time I thought this was such a funny comment to make, but can see how he would be able to perceive something like that just by looking at a woman. I am sure the way you are built and carry yourself, can make a big difference when it comes to ease of giving birth.

By StarJo — On Jan 12, 2012

I am glad that a woman's hip joints are designed to loosen up during birth. I am four months pregnant, and this will be my first child. I am scared to death about the pain, but reading this article made me feel a little better.

Does the destabilization of the hip joint really make a big difference? I am hoping that it will cut down on some of the pain. Is it really as bad as my friends say it is?

I have already begun walking a little weird, so I know it must be occurring already. I hope it will continue to soften as I get fatter and more ready to have this baby.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 11, 2012

My hip joint gets quite a workout during my exercise routine. I do Latin dancing as a form of aerobics, and all of the dances involve the hips in a major way.

I do a lot of waist and leg rotations. Dances like the salsa, the merengue, and the cha-cha require hip mobility, and people who have problems with their hips cannot do this workout.

My husband has a lot of pain around his hip joint because of an accident in his youth. He has tried to do these dances, but they cause him hip pain after only a few minutes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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