Hip osteoarthritis (OA) is characterized by cartilage degradation, subchondral bone sclerosis and osteophyte formation. Nowadays, OA is thought to develop via different etiologies that all lead to a similar form of end stage joint degradation. One of these subtypes is related to an abnormal shaped hip joint, like acetabular dysplasia and a cam deformity. These bony abnormalities are highly predictive for development of hip OA, but they are likely to already be present from childhood. This suggests that these deformations induce OA changes in the hip, well before extensive hip degradation becomes present three to four decades later. Accurate detection and successful characterization of these early OA events might lead to better treatment options for hip OA besides nowadays available invasive joint replacement surgery. However, current diagnostic imaging techniques like radiographs or plain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are not sensitive enough to detect these subtle early OA changes. Nor are they able to disentangle intertwined and overlapping cascades from different OA subtypes, and neither can they predict OA progression. New and more sensitive imaging techniques might enable us to detect first OA changes on a cellular level, providing us with new opportunities for early intervention. In this respect, shape analysis using radiography, MRI, computed tomography (CT), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)/CT, and positron emission tomography (PET) might prove promising techniques and be more suited to detect early pathological changes in the hip joint. A broad application of these techniques might give us more understanding what can be considered physiological adaptation of the hip, or when early OA really starts. With a more clear definition of early OA, more homogenous patient populations can be selected and help with the development of new disease modifying OA interventions. (C) 2014 Osteoarthritis Research Society International. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.