Causes of Burning Hip Pain and Treatment Options

The hip joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the human body

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Burning hip pain is caused by a multitude of conditions like hip bursitis, tendinitis, a pulled muscle, or a pinched nerve. Burning hip pain can feel like a sharp, searing, or achy pain in the upper outer thigh and it often results from inflammation. If it lingers, hip pain can be debilitating and when left untreated, the pain can become so severe that you're unable to walk.

woman with hip pain

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Causes

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint with cartilage that covers the ball of the thigh bone and lines the socket of the pelvic bone and tendons that attach muscles in the upper leg and thigh. Burning hip pain develops when any of these components—cartilage, muscles, tendons, nerves, or the joint space—are defective, injured, or not working properly. 

The hip joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the human body and helps the hip remain stable during twisting and extreme ranges of motion. A healthy hip joint allows you to walk, squat, and turn smoothly without pain. 

Below are some common causes of hip pain.

Hip Bursitis

Hip bursitis is one of the most common causes of burning hip pain. The hip has small, jelly-like sacs, called bursa that help cushion the bones and soft tissues in the joint. The bursa, which usually reduce friction, can become inflamed after repetitive motion injuries or certain medical conditions such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Diabetes

People with hip bursitis may report a burning sensation as well as sharp, achy pain in the hip and outer thigh. For many people, the pain worsens at night, when lying on the hip, or when getting up after a period of rest.

Prolonged activity like walking, climbing stairs, or squatting may also make the pain worse. Injury, like falling on the hip or banging it on a hard surface, athletic activities, and hip-related surgery are the most common causes of hip bursitis.

Pulled Muscle

Any of the muscles that support the hip joint can be torn or strained (stretched beyond its limit). A severe strain may make it difficult to move your hip. The pain of a strained muscle often feels burning.

Many hip strains are sports injuries that happen suddenly. They can also be caused by repetitive movements that do gradual damage. Once you've injured a muscle, it's more likely that you'll injure it again.

You may be at risk for pulling hip muscles if you don't warm up before exercising, if you do too much exercise, or if you're too active for your level of fitness.

Femoroacetabular Impingement

Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) is also known as hip impingement. It occurs when the labrum, thick cartilage that acts like a bumper cushion around the ball-and-socket hip joint, tears away from the socket. The bones of the hip joint—the acetabulum and the proximal femur—rub against one another during movement, which causes pain.

The wearing down of the cartilage and the friction caused by the rubbing of the two bones causes degenerative changes and osteoarthritis, which sometimes produces a burning sensation that can also be accompanied by a sharp, stabbing sensation similar to an electric shock.

FAI usually develops from hip deformities or traumatic injury. The pain from this can be felt in the groin area and the outer hip. It’s often worse at night and may be mild, moderate, or severe.

People with FAI often find that it interferes with important parts of life such as sleep, sex, work, and exercise.

Causes of hip bursitis pain

Verywell / Laura Porter

Meralgia Paresthetica 

Meralgia paresthetica is a neurological disorder that is caused when your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, the nerve that provides sensation to the thigh, becomes trapped. This causes numbness and/or burning pain on the outer part of the thigh.

Wearing tight clothes or belts, obesity, and pregnancy are the most common causes of meralgia paresthetica, although injury and diabetes may cause nerve entrapment. Meralgia paresthetica improves by wearing loose clothing or treating the underlying condition.

Pinched Nerve in the Hip

If you’ve ever experienced a sharp, burning sensation or numbness and tingling that travels down your leg after a long period of sitting you may have a pinched nerve in your hip. If the nerve is pinched for a prolonged period of time it may even cause weakness. Obesity, a herniated disc, arthritis, and a strained muscle may cause a pinched nerve. Pain is usually felt in the groin and radiates down the thigh or buttocks. 

Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Hip arthritis mainly occurs in old age due to the wearing away of joint cartilage, which leaves the raw bone beneath it exposed. Without the cartilage pad to protect from friction, pain and stiffness set in. If left untreated, you may develop a joint deformity, which may require hip replacement surgery. Mild burning sensation of the hip may be resolved through activity modifications, medications, and/or injections.

Sacroiliac Joint Pain

Sacroiliac joint pain is accompanied by inflammation at the point of insertion where the backbone meets the pelvis. The sacrum is made of fused, immovable bones in the spine and attach to the right and left iliac bones of the hip. Together this joint supports the entire weight of the upper body. Repetitive joint use, uneven leg length, previous spine surgery, pregnancy, injury or trauma to ligaments surrounding SI joint, and gout can lead to sacroiliac joint dysfunction. 

What causes sacroiliac joint pain.

Jo Zixuan Zhou / Verywell

The pain is typically worse with walking or standing and is relieved when lying down. Compression of the joint space and inflammation can cause a burning sensation or stiffness in the pelvic region. Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are often prescribed; and in some cases oral steroids like prednisone may be taken for a short period of time to relieve severe inflammation. 

Hip Labral Tear

A hip labral tear occurs when the ring of cartilage that stabilizes the hip joint—the labrum—tears off. Without the shock absorption of the labrum, you can feel a deep pain in your groin or the front of your hip. Sometimes labrum tears are small and you feel nothing, except during rigorous activities like running.

Overextending yourself while running, especially without strength training, can lead to an imbalance of muscle strength in the muscles and tendons that surround the hip. Strong quads, glutes, back, and core abdominal muscles are needed to absorb the forces of running. An imbalance can lead to mechanical failure of the structures that support the hip such as the labrum.

The sensation that you feel depends on the location of the tear, but sometimes a burning sensation is reported. Clicking and clunking of the hip during movement and increasingly more consistent pain are tell-tale signs that you might have a hip labral tear. A clinical examination and an MRI are usually needed to make the diagnosis. 

The Two General Types of Hip Labral Tears

Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your hip pain is interfering with your everyday life, it may be time to contact a healthcare professional. If you have a mild or moderate burning sensation in the hip but are able to complete your activities of daily living, ask yourself these questions to gauge whether or not you should get help. 

  • Is the hip warm or tender to the touch?
  • Does the hip appear deformed?
  • Are you unable to move or bear weight on the affected leg?
  • Did your hip suddenly “give out” from under you?
  • Did you experience sudden swelling or intense pain in the hip?
  • Have home treatments like rest, ice, heat, or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications failed to improve your symptoms?

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Sudden pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Fever
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Loss of sensation or increased pain when moving the hip

Diagnosis

If you tell a healthcare professional that you are experiencing burning hip pain, they will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam. A clinical examination may involve a gait assessment by seeing how you walk around and provocative movements that measure your range of motion. The Patrick’s, Ober’s and Thomas tests are three physical exam maneuvers that are often used to observe your passive hip motion and help figure out the etiology of your pain.

After you complete a clinical exam you will also almost certainly be asked to get an image of the problem area, such as an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI’s are especially helpful in diagnosing occult traumatic fractures, stress fractures, cartilage tears, and osteonecrosis of the femoral head, as well as detecting fluid buildup in the bursa or inflammation caused by nerve entrapments.

Other imaging tests include:

  • CT Scans
  • Ultrasounds
  • Special X-rays with dye

Anterior, lateral, and posterior views are needed to make an accurate assessment of the condition in question. MRI's are especially helpful because they allow your healthcare provider, usually an orthopedic surgeon, to get a better view of all the hip structures including the bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, and surrounding tissues.

The combination of a detailed history, clinical examination, and imaging are used to make an accurate diagnosis. 

Treatment

Multiple treatment modalities are used in combination to alleviate or eliminate burning sensation in the hip. Some you can do yourself at home, including:

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that make the pain worse can reduce irritation and stress on the nerve, allowing it to heal.
  • Anti-inflammatories: Lowering inflammation may take pressure off of the nerve. Common brands include Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen).
  • Heat and cold: Heat relaxes muscles and cold lowers inflammation. You can use the one that helps most or alternate between them.

You may benefit from seeing a physical or occupational therapist for:

  • Gentle stretches: Can relieve pressure on muscles or tendons that may be too tight.
  • Improving flexibility and strength: Stretching and strengthening core muscles supports your spine and takes pressure off the hips. Especially helpful for bursitis.
  • Practicing good posture: Small changes in posture can help alleviate pain. Keep your shoulders back and level. When standing, weight should be evenly divided between your feet.

Other treatments require a doctor or certified healthcare practitioner:

  • Cortisone shots: Joint injections can help relieve pain and inflammation. Ultrasound-guided cortisone injections are made directly into the hip joint.
  • Acupuncture: Proven to relieve muscle tension but rarely used alone for burning hip pain. Often done alongside more conventional treatments.
  • Hip arthroscopy: This surgical procedure is especially helpful for FAI. An orthopedic surgeon uses a small incision and camera (arthroscope) to view the hip. Then they use thin surgical tools to repair damage.
  • Hip replacement: Usually needed if pain is unbearable or you can't take care of yourself (e.g., showering, getting dressed). Often performed with minimally invasive techniques, sometimes as out-patient procedures.  

Prevention

The best way to prevent the hip injuries that cause burning is to maintain a healthy weight by developing good eating habits, committing to an exercise routine and frequently stretching. Strengthening your core abdominal muscles can help restore balance to your body while stretching can relieve tension in tight muscles. Performing glute, piriformis, and quad stretches three times per day is a good starting point for most people. 

Consistently engaging in health-positive behaviors is key to feeling the full benefits of healthy habits. Living a healthy life that includes no smoking and eating a balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables also mitigates your risk of developing arthritis and diabetes which directly contribute to many hip injuries. 

A Word From Verywell

Most hip pain does not require a hospital visit and will go away with rest, ice, a warm shower, and the use of OTC anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. Stretching and regular exercise goes a long way in not only alleviating your pain but preventing future hip pain altogether. Still, the treatment and subsequent resolution of your burning hip pain depend on the severity of the condition causing it and the limitations it places on your daily life.

The earlier the condition is diagnosed the better the outcomes. If your hip pain changes suddenly or you are limited by your hip pain, you may want to contact a healthcare professional to discuss your treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my hip pain is serious?

    Get immediate help for a hip that is:

    • Suddenly injured by a fall or other activity
    • Deformed, bleeding, or badly bruised
    • Unable to bear weight

    See a healthcare provider if:

    • It hurts after a week of home treatment.
    • You have a fever or rash with hip pain.
    • You have sickle cell anemia an have sudden hip pain.
    • You've used steroids long term and have sudden hip pain.
    • Both hips and other joints have pain.
    • You're limping.
    • You struggle with stairs.
  • What does bursitis in the hips feel like?

    Hip bursitis often starts out sharp, then may fade to a dull ache after a few days. It may have visible swelling and feel warm, as well. A continued problem may lead to weakness and limited movement.

  • Is walking good for hip pain?

    Walking is often a good exercise for strengthening your hip and the surrounding muscles, which can ease hip pain. If walking increases your pain, stop and check with your healthcare provider.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hips strains.

  2. Ahmed A. Meralgia paresthetica and femoral acetabular impingement: a possible association. J Clin Med Res. 2010;2(6):274-276. doi:10.4021/jocmr468w

  3. Wilson JJ, Furukawa M. Evaluation of the patient with hip painAm Fam Physician. 2014;89(1):27-34.

  4. The University of Pennsylvania: Penn Medicine. Hip pain.

  5. American Academy of Family Physicians: familydoctor.org. Bursitis of the hip.

  6. Versus Arthritis. How your hip works.

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.