Osteonecrosis or Avascular Necrosis of the hip is a painful condition that occurs when the blood supply to the bone is disrupted. Because bone cells die without a blood supply, osteonecrosis can ultimately lead to destruction of the hip joint and arthritis.
Osteonecrosis is also called avascular necrosis or aseptic necrosis. Although it can occur in any bone, osteonecrosis most often affects the hip. More than 20,000 people each year enter hospitals for treatment of osteonecrosis of the hip. In many cases, both hips are affected by the disease.
Osteonecrosis of the hip develops when the blood supply to the femoral head is disrupted. Without adequate nourishment, the bone in the head of the femur dies and gradually collapses. As a result, the articular cartilage covering the hip bones also collapses, leading to disabling arthritis.
Osteonecrosis develops in stages. Hip pain is typically the first symptom. This may lead to a dull ache or throbbing pain in the groin or buttock area. As the disease progresses, it will become more difficult to stand and put weight on the affected hip, and moving the hip joint will be painful.
How long it takes for the disease to progress through these stages varies from several months to over a year. It is important to diagnose this disease early, because some studies show that early treatment is associated with better outcomes.
Although nonsurgical treatment options like medications or using crutches can relieve pain and slow the progression of the disease, the most successful treatment options are surgical. Patients with osteonecrosis that is caught in the very early stages (prior to femoral head collapse) are good candidates for hip preserving procedures.
This procedure involves drilling one larger hole or several smaller holes into the femoral head to relieve pressure in the bone and create channels for new blood vessels to nourish the affected areas of the hip.
When osteonecrosis of the hip is diagnosed early, core decompression is often successful in preventing collapse of the femoral head and the development of arthritis.
Core decompression is often combined with bone grafting to help regenerate healthy bone and support cartilage at the hip joint. A bone graft is healthy bone tissue that is transplanted to an area of the body where it is needed.
Many bone graft options are available today. The standard technique is to take extra bone from one part of your body (harvest) and move (graft) it to another part of your body. This type of graft is called an autograft.
Many surgeons use bone that is harvested from a donor or cadaver. This type of graft is typically acquired through a bone bank. Like other organs, bone can be donated upon death.
There are also several synthetic bone grafts available today.
Total Hip Replacement
If osteonecrosis has advanced to femoral head collapse, the most successful treatment is total hip replacement. This procedure involves replacing the damaged cartilage and bone with artificial implants.
Total hip replacement is successful in relieving pain and restoring function in 90 to 95 percent of patients. It is considered one of the most successful operations in all of medicine.