An Overview of Iliopsoas Syndrome

A potential cause of hip and thigh pain

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Iliopsoas syndrome (also called psoas syndrome) is a vague, “catch-all” name that encompasses several other conditions. The term is often used interchangeably with iliopsoas tendinitis, snapping hip syndrome, and iliopsoas bursitis—conditions that also affect the iliopsoas muscles, which bend your leg at the hip.

Iliopsoas syndrome is generally regarded as an overuse injury and is commonly seen in gymnasts, dancers, track-and-field participants, and other athletes who perform repeated hip flexion movements.

a man holding his hip in pain
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Symptoms

Iliopsoas syndrome can sometimes be associated with hip bursitis or painful snapping. Typically, movements that involve actively bending the hip (bringing your knee toward your chest) can worsen the pain. Other symptoms of iliopsoas syndrome include:

  • Pain and/or stiffness in the hip and thigh area
  • Pain that starts sharp and intense but becomes more dull and aching
  • Clicking or snapping in the hip or groin
  • Pain that worsens when doing anything that bends the hip (walking, climbing stairs, squatting, sitting, etc.)
  • Tenderness in the hip and groin area

Causes

The iliopsoas muscles are the anterior hip muscles (muscles on the front of the hip) and are made up of the psoas major, the psoas minor, and the iliacus.

Within the hip joint are several bursae, small, fluid-filled sacs that lie between bones and soft tissues. Bursae reduce friction and provide cushioning to allow tendons, muscles, and other structures to glide over bony prominences effortlessly.

Two of these bursae—the greater trochanteric bursa and the iliopsoas bursa—can become inflamed, setting the stage for iliopsoas syndrome.

  • Iliopsoas bursitis occurs when the iliopsoas bursa (located between the iliopsoas tendon and the inside of the hip joint) becomes inflamed and irritated
  • Iliopsoas tendonitis, or hip tendonitis, occurs when the iliopsoas tendon (the tendon that attaches the thigh bone to the iliopsoas muscle) becomes inflamed and irritated.

Iliopsoas bursitis and tendinitis are most commonly caused by an overuse injury during intense activities, such as running, rowing, cycling, or strength training.

In dancers with snapping hip syndrome, pain develops more commonly if they are younger (under age 18), female, and continue to perform the repetitive movements that initiated the symptoms.

Diagnosis

A physician is able to diagnose iliopsoas syndrome based on symptom history and a hip examination. Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and X-ray, may be used to rule out other injuries or conditions, such as muscle tears.

Your healthcare provider may also opt to administer an anesthetic joint injection to determine if you have internal or external snapping hip syndrome and give you an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment

Most cases of hip bursitis and hip tendinitis can be managed with anti-inflammatory medications to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Modifications of your activities will also be required, as well as proper management of arthritis (if it is the root cause).

Sometimes, steroid injections are used to relieve symptoms. If symptoms persist or return, additional steroid injections can be administered as necessary.

After pain and swelling subside, you may need to see a physical therapist, or your healthcare provider may start you on a mild exercise program to gradually improve hip strength and flexibility. Canes and crutches can provide additional support.

In severe cases where pain persists despite taking these measures, your healthcare provider may recommend surgical interventions. However, these instances are rare due to the risks of muscle weakness and nerve damage.

The best way to treat iliopsoas syndrome is to rest and decrease your activities to a comfortable level. Staying active despite pain may prolong the time required for healing.

A Word From Verywell

Iliopsoas syndrome is caused by overuse and doing too much, too soon. It's important to start small and build up gradually, whether you are an exercise beginner or trying to amp up your fitness routine. Follow the rule of not increasing volume of activity by more than 10% each week.

3 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. Laible C, Swanson D, Garofolo G, Rose DJ. Iliopsoas syndrome in dancers. Orthop J Sports Med. 2013;1(3):2325967113500638. doi:10.1177/2325967113500638

  2. Physiopedia. Iliopsoas bursitis.

  3. Musick SR, Varacallo M. Snapping hip syndrome. StatPearls Publishing.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.