Despite the importance of the hip muscles in protecting against hip fracture and in the outcome of hip arthroplasty, the variability in their fat content has not been previously studied. Our objectives were to evaluate the variability in the fat content of the hip muscles in a population without myopathy or a need for hip surgery with the use of computed tomography (CT), to study the relationship between hip muscle fat content and physical performance, and to identify medical conditions and lifestyle habits associated with an increase in hip muscle fat content.Methods:
Ten normal subjects without a relevant medical history and ninety-nine consecutive nonsurgical patients without myopathy (age, twenty-one to ninety-four years) underwent a nonenhanced CT scan of the pelvis. Patients were asked to perform physical tests (six-meter walk, repeated chair stands, and Trendelenburg test), and their level of physical activity and medical history were recorded. Evaluation of the fat content of the hip muscles was based on the analysis of four reproducible and representative CT slices with use of custom software.Results:
The fat content varied among the muscles, with an anteroposterior gradient from the hip flexors (mean, 2%) to the hip extensors (mean, 10%). This gradient increased after fifty years of age. Fat content also varied considerably among patients. Higher fat content was associated with poorer performance on physical tests, even after adjustment for the cross-sectional area of the muscle (p < 0.05). Higher fat content was also associated with greater age, higher body-mass index, and lower physical activity (p < 0.001).Conclusions:
The observed variability in the fat content of individuals without myopathy or a need for hip surgery should be useful for comparison with future studies of specific populations of patients, such as those with muscle weakness secondary to hip fracture or hip surgery. Simple lifestyle changes such as dietary restriction, increased physical activity, and vitamin D supplementation may decrease muscle fat content and improve physical performance in the elderly.