Injuries and Conditions That Can Cause Hip Pain

Hip pain is a common problem, and it can be confusing because there are many causes, including a hyperextended hip, arthritis, or a fracture. It is important that you seek medical attention for your hip pain so the cause of your symptoms can be identified and appropriate treatment can be directed at the underlying problem.

An older man with pain in his hip
Jeannot Olivet / Getty Images

Common Causes

Arthritis: Arthritis is among the most frequent causes of hip pain, and there are many treatments available. If conservative treatments fail, hip replacement surgery might be an option.

Trochanteric Bursitis: Trochanteric bursitis is an extremely common problem that causes inflammation of the bursa over the outside of the hip joint.

Tendonitis: Tendonitis can occur in any of the tendons that surround the hip joint. The most frequently encountered tendonitis around the hip is iliotibial band (IT band) tendonitis.

Labral Tear: The labrum is the cartilage that surrounds the hip joint. Hip labral tears can cause pain and sensations of catching in the joint. Hip arthroscopy is a treatment option.

Osteonecrosis: Osteonecrosis is a condition that occurs when blood flow to an area of bone is restricted. If an inadequate amount of blood flow reaches the bone, the cells will die and the bone may collapse. One of the most common locations of osteonecrosis is in the hip joint.

Referred Symptoms: Many nerve and spine problems can cause symptoms around the buttocks and hip. The most common problems that refer pain to the hip region are herniated discs and sciatica.

Snapping Hip Syndrome: Snapping hip syndrome describes three distinct hip problems. The first is when the iliotibial (IT) band snaps over the outside of the thigh. The second occurs when the deep hip flexor snaps over the front of the hip joint. Finally, tears of the cartilage, or labrum, around the hip socket can cause a snapping sensation.

Muscle Strains: Strains of the muscles around the hip and pelvis can cause pain and spasm. The most common strains are groin pulls and hamstring strains.

Hip Fracture: Hip fractures are most common in elderly patients with osteoporosis. Treatment of a broken hip requires surgery to either replace the broken portion or repair it with a metal plate and screws.

Stress Fracture: Stress fractures of the hip are most common in athletes who participate in high-impact sports, such as long-distance runners. This can heal on its own with rest and avoiding the impact activities.

Childhood Hip Problems:

  • Developmental Dysplasia: When the hips are dislocated or out of position in infancy, the joint may not develop properly. While this is not usually painful during childhood, it can lead to early arthritis and problems with walking.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: Also called Perthes disease, this is a problem similar to osteonecrosis (see above) but it occurs during childhood. If severe, it can lead to permanent damage to the hip joint and early arthritis.

When Do You Need to Call Your Doctor?

If you have hip pain, you should seek medical attention. Treatment of hip pain must be directed at the specific cause of your problem. Some signs that you should be seen by a doctor include:

  • Inability to walk comfortably on the affected side
  • An injury that causes deformity around the joint
  • Hip pain that occurs at night or while resting
  • Hip pain that persists beyond a few days
  • Inability to bend the hip
  • Swelling of the hip or the thigh area
  • Signs of an infection, including fever, redness, warmth
  • Any other unusual symptoms

Treatments 

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis or the severity of your condition, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment plan.

Some common treatments for hip pain are listed here. Not all of these treatments are appropriate for every condition, but one or more may be helpful in your situation.

  • Rest: The first treatment for most conditions that cause hip pain is to rest the joint to allow acute inflammation to subside. Often this is the only step needed to relieve symptoms. If the symptoms are severe, crutches or a cane may be helpful as well.
  • Ice and Heat Application: Ice packs and heat pads are among the most commonly used treatments for inflammation. Some people prefer one or the other, and some find relief with alternating ice and heat. In general, ice is used for acute inflammation, and heat for relieving stiffness.
  • Stretching: Stretching the muscles and tendons that surround the joint can help relieve some causes of hip pain. You should follow recommendations from your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is an important aspect of the treatment of almost all orthopedic conditions. Physical therapists use different modalities to help you gain strength, mobility, and help you return to your pre-injury level of activity.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can help relieve hip pain caused by problems such as arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis.
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