The hip joint functions as one of the most important joints in the human body. Designed for both mobility and stability, the hip allows the entire lower extremity to move in three planes of motion, while providing an important shock absorption function to the torso and upper body. The hip is a ball and socket joint, uniting the femur (thigh bone) with the pelvis. As a result of this configuration, the leg moves forwards and backwards, side to side, and rotates to the right and left.
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The pelvis features two cup-shaped depressions called the acetabulum, one on either side of the body. The femur, or thigh bone, is the longest bone in the body and connects to the pelvis at the hip joint. The head of the femur, shaped like a ball, fits tightly into the acetabulum, forming the ball and socket joint of the hip.
Embedded within the acetabulum of the pelvis lies an important structure known as articular cartilage; this cartilage has two very important functions. First, the smooth, low friction surface of the cartilage allows the hip joint to move freely in all planes of movement. Second, the articular cartilage cushions the hip during weight bearing activities, providing an important shock absorption function to the entire lower extremity.
The hip joint also features a complex system of ligaments that provide stability for the pelvis and lower extremity. The ligaments of the hip joint connect the femur to the pelvis and are essential to keeping the hip from moving outside of its normal planes of movement.
The muscles of the hip joint have dual responsibilities. They provide the dynamic functions necessary to raise and lower the lower extremity as well as the stabilizing functions required during standing, walking, or other weight-bearing exercises. This complex system of muscles works synergistically to provide the power for the hip to move in all directions, as well as to stabilize the entire lower extremity during weight bearing activities.