Over the past two months, I have seen a total of six doctors in an attempt to figure out what is causing my hip pain. I’m happy to say that I FINALLY have an answer (I explain later in the article)!
I injured my right hip last summer, and spent three months in physical therapy. Although that seemed to help a little, the pain returned full force in May after I trained for, and ran, a few races. It is sharp, deep, travels up into my stomach, down my leg, wraps around my back and down my butt. I constantly feel it in my groin area. Exercise aggravates it; I can’t sit without shifting around for more than 30 minutes, and sleeping on my side is uncomfortable.
I am no stranger to injury and dealing with a slew of doctors. I had 4 major surgeries from 2008 to 2011 and am comfortable talking with medical professionals and orthopedists about any issues I’m having.
Until they stop listening to me. Or don’t even start for that matter. This is when you have to be your own health advocate. You have to determine if the answer you’ve been given by a medical professional is good enough. You need to be able to ask the right questions and sometimes push for answers. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals, or get a second or third or fourth opinion. If the answer doesn’t resonate with you or sound right for your condition, there’s a chance it may not be. Not all doctors are equal in the way they determine diagnoses based on the information they’re given – this does not necessarily mean they’re wrong, but there may be another doctor out there who is a little more right in their assessment and determining your situation.
I went through five doctors before I found the ‘right’ one, because I wasn’t satisfied with the answers from the others:
Dr. #1: The first doctor I saw prescribed me anti-inflammatories for strained muscles and sent me on my way.
Dr. #2: This one told me it was my IT band after talking with me for 5 minutes and squeezing my IT band close to my knee. That probably wouldn’t feel very good to anyone – most people have tight IT bands. I told this doctor I thought he was wrong, which he DID NOT appreciate. But I KNEW it wasn’t my IT band. He tried to prescribe physical therapy, even though I had already spent months trying it out. I straight up told him no. I said I would go to physical therapy on two conditions: 1) that he refer me to an orthopedist; and 2) that he request X-rays and an MRI.
Dr. #3: This was just a ridiculous situation. Dr. #2 referred me to Dr. #3, who turned out to be a hip joint replacement specialist. Dr. #3 had absolutely no idea why Dr. #2 would refer me to him. Upon confronting Dr. #2 (well, his nurse), it was because that office hadn’t updated their referral list in over a year. *slow clap*
Dr. #4: I found Dr. #4 on my own – this one was an orthopedist who specialized in sports medicine. Sounds promising, right? I went to this one after having 2 sets of X-rays. He said the X-rays looked fine and ordered me an MRI with contrast (where they inject fluid into the hip joint – it’s as fun as it sounds). Upon review, he said he didn’t see anything out of order, but that if he did, he couldn’t have helped me anyway. You would think that would be an up-front conversation.
Dr. #5: This doctor was in the same facility as Dr. #4, but specialized in hips. Fantastic! His evaluation based on the X-rays and MRI concluded that I have really tight muscles. Disclosure: I have ALWAYS had tight muscles, calves, hamstrings, shoulders, quadriceps, you name it. I told him as so, but he determined that it was my tight muscles causing the pain…..but only on my right side. He, too, prescribed anti-inflammatories and sent me on my way.
At this point, I was starting to think it was all in my head. I tried running-briefly-and realized that it was NOT all in my head. My physical therapist, whom I had been keeping in touch with throughout this entire ordeal, suggested I come into the clinic so that she, and the head of the physical therapy institution could look at the MRI. They took one look at my MRI and couldn’t believe that these doctors were clearly missing a few things. They said they thought my hip shape looked off – hips are a ball-in-socket joint and should be round. They also very clearly saw a labral tear, which is what they had thought it was all along. They were so convinced that they even wanted to send one of them to my next doctor’s appointment with me (this ended up not working with either of their schedules).
Dr. #6: When you find a really good doctor, it’s like finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn carrying a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Seriously. That’s how I felt after seeing this one. Not only did the doctor assess me, his team, including two PAs, a sports medicine specialist and a surgeon also did. They spent over two hours moving, rotating, palpating, stretching, measuring, squeezing and talking to me to get a complete picture of what’s been going on. And not only on my right hip – they compared everything with my left hip to make sure they missed nothing. Based on their thorough assessment, and review of all my imaging, I finally have a diagnosis:
I’ve been suffering from Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI). According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, FAI is a condition where the bones of the hip are abnormally shaped. Because they do not fit together perfectly, the hip bones rub against each other and cause damage to the joint. The bone overgrowth causes the hip bones to hit against each other, rather than to move smoothly. Over time, this can result in the tearing of the labrum and breakdown of articular cartilage (osteoarthritis).
This is the same condition that my physical therapist thought I had. No, I was not doctor-hunting until I heard a worse outcome, but I fervently did not believe that I was suffering from sore muscles.
The remedy for FAI is arthroscopic surgery, which is never the answer you want to hear. This will be my fifth major surgery in 7 years. I’m scheduled for surgery on September 2, two days after I return from a trip to Europe (Budapest) that’s part of my MBA program, and three months before my trip to Africa. The doctor said I should be able to go on that trip, but that it may be ‘uncomfortable.’ I can deal with uncomfortable. I’ve been doing it for months.
I’m glad to have an answer – it takes some of the pressure off of wondering if I would ever figure out what was wrong. The trade is the added pressure of upcoming surgery, not being able to drive, being on crutches (again), living on the third floor of an apartment building, taking care of my dog, and making it to work and class. Additionally, this is a hip deformity that could one day affect my left hip, as well. *deep breaths*
The point of this entire wordy article is this: you HAVE to be your own health advocate. Only you know what is going on and can explain your symptoms better than anyone else. Don’t settle for a mediocre answer, or one that doesn’t resonate with you. Get more than one opinion. Hell, get more than three if you have to. Do what you need to do for your own health. Your health is the most important thing you have, which means sometimes you need to take a stand, explore options, and fight for it.
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