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Avascular Necrosis

The hip joint is one of the largest joints in the body. It is composed of one osseous (contains bone) joint. The hip is built for weight bearing and movement in several different planes. The stability of the hip joint comes from the capsule, ligaments, muscle and a cartilaginous tissue called the labrum.

The hip is a ball and socket joint. It is formed by the head of the femur (thigh bone), which sits in the acetabulum, a part of pelvis. The hip can experience disease, including avascular necrosis and slipped femoral epiphysis.

Avascular Necrosis

Avascular Necrosis is the loss of bone tissue, due to a lack of blood supply. Sometimes called osteonecrosis, avascular necrosis can be caused by a disruption of blood flow from a fracture or a dislocation. Small fractures can form in the bone, and the bone can eventually collapse. Avascular Necrosis can affect different joints, but more dominantly affects the hip.


Avascular Necrosis is caused by a loss of blood flow to bone. The following can disrupt blood flow:

  • Joint injury that causes damage to nearby blood vessels
  • Narrow blood vessels
  • Clogged blood vessels typically with fat or deformed blood cells (like with sickle cell anemia)
  • Pressure inside the bone


Some people with avascular necrosis experience no symptoms, however some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the effected joint
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Pain in the hip that radiates to the groin or down the thigh
  • Small fractures
  • Symptoms can occur bilaterally (in both hips)
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving the affected joint


The goal of treatment for avascular necrosis is to prevent any more bone from dying due to loss of blood. Treatment will vary based on the severity of bone damage. In severe cases surgery may be necessary. A core decompression, bone transplant or graft, bone reshaping, or a joint replacement can repair bone and increase the blood flow to the bone.

Physical Therapy Interventions for Hip Disease (Avascular Necrosis)

Physical Therapists are professionals, educated and trained to administer interventions. As defined by The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, interventions are the skilled and purposeful use of physical therapy methods and techniques to produce changes consistent with the diagnosis, prognosis and the patient or client’s goals.

Physical Therapy can be beneficial for patients suffering from diseases of the hip improving strength and stability, and recover following a surgical procedure.

Common Physical Therapy interventions in the treatment of Hip Disease include:

  • Manual Therapeutic Technique (MTT): hands on care including soft tissue massage, stretching and joint mobilization by a physical therapist to improve alignment, mobility and range of motion of the knee and hip. Use of mobilization techniques also help to modulate pain.
  • Therapeutic Exercises (TE) including stretching and strengthening exercises to regain range of motion and strengthen muscles of the knee and lower extremity to support, stabilize and decrease the stresses place on the bursa and tendons of the hip joint.
  • Neuromuscular Reeducation (NMR) to restore stability, retrain the lower extremity and improve movement techniques and mechanics (for example, running, kneeling, squatting and jumping) of the involved lower extremity to reduce stress on the hip joint in daily activities.
  • Modalities including the use of ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, cold laser and others to decrease pain.
  • A home program that includes strengthening, stretching and stabilization exercises and instructions to help the person perform daily tasks and advance to the next functional level.

Medical Interventions

Avoiding the activities that produce the pain or stress the involved joint is the first line of treatment.

  • RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression Elevation should be used to reduce the stress on the bones.
  • NSAIDS (Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Injection of steroids may be necessary to reduce inflammation in the hip joint
  • Immobilization, strapping or bracing may be beneficial to rest the joints and promote healing.