We aimed to assess individual differences in complaints in patients just before total hip replacement (THR) and the importance attached to the relief of each of them. In a pilot study, using open-ended interviews, we identified 16 main complaints, four of which (night pain, unequal leg length and discomfort during sexual and recreational activities) were not included in any of the six hip-rating scales in general use. Each of the 16 complaints was then assessed in 72 patients and rated for severity and the relative importance of relief. From this we calculated a severity-importance rating for each complaint and a patient-specific score for all complaints. The 72 patients had a mean age of 64 years (17 to 92) and 51% were men. The most important reasons for wanting a THR were day pain and walking difficulty, but the complaints mentioned above and not included in standard hip scores were also important. Greater attention to the individual requirements of patients might improve evaluation of the outcome of orthopaedic treatments.