While hip pain isn’t one of the most common pains reported in the United States — those would be back, head, neck and face pain — it’s still relatively common. That’s especially true for older adults.
Hip pain is certainly more common as a person ages, but it can also be a symptom of an injury or underlying condition that can impact people of any age. Find out more about some common causes of hip pain below along with treatment options.
Responsible for helping extend and straighten the legs, the hamstrings are three muscles running down the back of the thigh, from the bottom of the pelvis to the bottom of the lower leg. These muscles may become injured or strained when they violently contract or stretch suddenly, causing a sharp pain in the back of the leg that’s sometimes accompanied by a popping sound. Within a few hours of the injury, pain, swelling and bruising may appear in the injured area. Muscle weakness may be present, and the person may not be able to put weight on the leg.
Hamstring strains are among the most common sports-related injuries. Dancers, sprinters and those who play football, soccer and basketball are prone to developing hamstring strains. These injuries also occur more frequently in adolescents, older people, those with muscle imbalance or poor flexibility and people who have previously injured the hamstring muscles.
Resting, applying ice to the affected area, wrapping the leg with a compression bandage and elevating the leg may help reduce pain and swelling related to hamstring strains. Taking over-the-counter pain medications may also help ease discomfort and inflammation. Once the pain and swelling have abated, a physical therapist can design a program of exercises to help strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility.
If the muscle is severely torn or has pulled away from the pelvis or shin bone, surgical repair may be necessary. Following surgery, the person may need bracing for the leg and crutches to help keep weight off the leg. As the muscles heal, an exercise regimen overseen by a physical therapist helps muscle strength and flexibility return to normal. This may take three to six months.
A hip flexor strain is an injury that develops when one or more of the muscles that support the hip joint become torn or overstretched. Mild sprains can cause pain or a feeling of tightness in the hip and leg. More severe sprains in the hip can make walking or rising from a seated position more difficult and can cause sharp pain, cramping and bruising.
Hip flexor strains are fairly common and can develop as a result of repetitive movements that stress the hip muscles, traumatic injury or any sudden activity that stretches the muscle unexpectedly. People who do martial arts, run frequently or play soccer, hockey or football may be more prone to developing a hip flexor strain. Weak muscles, insufficient warmups before exercise and stiff muscles can also increase the risk of a hip flexor strain.
For a mild hip flexor strain, rest and icing the affected area can help encourage healing. Pain relief medication can ease the immediate symptoms of pain and swelling, while alternating heat therapy and ice therapy 72 hours after the injury can help improve the joint’s range of motion and reduce pain long-term. Someone with a severe strain may need to use crutches to keep pressure off the area until it heals. Physical therapy can help restore flexibility and strength in the hip after the area begins to heal. Generally, surgery isn’t necessary for a hip flexor strain.
One of the outer points of the hip is called the greater trochanter. At that point, there’s a fluid-filled sac positioned near the joint that connects the hip to the femur, which is the top part of the leg. Inflammation of that sac can lead to a condition known as greater trochanteric bursitis, or just trochanteric bursitis.
Symptoms of this condition can include pain in the hip, especially when you’re lying on it or moving that particular joint as you get up from a seated position or walking up stairs.
Around 15% of women may suffer from this issue while around 8% of men experience trochanteric bursitis. Age can be a factor, and middle-aged women are more likely to be affected. People who have experienced hip injuries, are involved in sports, have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or have spine issues that lead to poor posture can be at greater risk of trochanteric bursitis.
How the condition is treated depends on what caused it and how severe it is. Treatment options can include anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections provided in a doctor’s office and physical therapy. If more conservative methods don’t work to treat trochanteric bursitis, surgery may be recommended.
Iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band syndrome, occurs when the IT band in the leg becomes overly tight. The IT band is a thick tissue running from the outside of the shin bone up to the hip, providing support for muscles and bones in the leg as they move.
When the IT band tightens beyond a normal amount, it can lead to friction in areas near the hip or knee. That friction can cause inflammation, which leads to swelling, tenderness, pain and potential issues moving the hip and leg correctly.
Risk factors for IT band syndrome can include issues with gait, such as pronation problems or uneven leg length, as well as exercising or conducting physical activity without being conditioned for it. The highest prevalence of IT band syndrome is found in long-distance runners. Around 4.3 to 7.5% of long-distance runners experience this issue, whether they run competitively or not.
Treatments for IT band syndrome can include rest, ice on any areas of swelling, anti-inflammatory medication and strengthening exercises. If conservative treatments don’t help, doctors may prescribe steroid injections for the swelling and pain or a minimally invasive procedure to remove fluid from the impacted area. Only in rare cases is surgery required to treat IT band syndrome.
Hip tendinitis is an injury to the tendon in the hip, typically caused by irritation or inflammation. Symptoms include pain in the area or lack of motion in the hip, due often to feelings of discomfort when moving in certain ways. Other symptoms can include tenderness to the touch and swelling in the impacted area. Typically, the pain associated with tendinitis comes on gradually over a period of time.
Common causes of hip tendinitis include overuse of the tendon connecting the upper thigh to the hip or too much strain on the tendon due to activity that isn’t normal for the person. Progressing suddenly in an exercise program without building up to higher levels can cause hip tendinitis, for example.
Hip tendinitis is fairly common, especially for people involved in sports such as cycling or running. Individuals who work in environments that require repetitive motion of the hip might be at risk for hip tendinitis due to overuse.
Rest and the use of anti-inflammatory medications to treat the symptoms are typically the first line of treatment for hip tendinitis. Depending on the severity of the case, a doctor might recommend physical therapy, the use of orthotics to help realign muscles and tendons or surgery.
The piriformis muscle runs along the top of the hip bone under the gluteus muscles in the buttocks. Piriformis syndrome occurs when this muscle goes into spasm. It can cause buttock pain and changes to normal sensation, such as numbness and pins and needles. Symptoms may worsen after exercise or sitting down for extended periods.
Piriformis syndrome can sometimes aggravate the sciatic nerve. This can cause sciatica, where pain radiates from the buttocks down the legs.
Piriformis syndrome is often caused by activities that place repeated strain on the piriformis muscle, such as climbing stairs or lunging. Some people develop piriformis syndrome following a buttock or hip injury.
Piriformis syndrome is relatively unusual, affecting around 6.25% of people with lower back pain and sciatica. It’s most common in patients between the ages of 30 and 40. Women have a higher risk of developing piriformis syndrome than men.
The most common treatment for piriformis syndrome is physical therapy. During treatment, a therapist will prescribe stretches and exercises to improve posture, increase mobility and strengthen muscles around the hips to relieve tension. Icing the affected area and taking anti-inflammatory medication can help reduce discomfort.
If physical therapy is ineffective, doctors may recommend injecting steroids or local anesthetic into the muscle to reduce pain and inflammation. Severe cases that don’t respond to more conservative treatments may require surgery to cut away part of the piriformis muscle.
The hip labrum is a layer of cartilage around the edge of the joint socket that absorbs shock and keeps the thigh bone in place. A hip labral tear occurs when this ring of cartilage becomes damaged.
A traumatic injury, such as dislocating the hip joint, is one of the most common causes of hip labral tears. Placing the hip under repeated strain can also cause gradual damage and make a hip labral tear more likely. Some pre-existing hip problems can also increase the chances of damaging the labrum. Patients with hip labral tears are at greater risk of getting osteoarthritis in the affected joint.
Not everyone with a hip labral tear will experience symptoms, but it often causes pain and stiffness in the hip joint. The pain may get worse after sitting down or walking for a long time. Some affected individuals also report a popping sound or sensation when they move their hip.
Hip labral tears are a relatively common cause of hip pain, and it’s thought that between 22% and 55% of people experiencing pain in the hip or groin have a labral tear. People who participate in sports regularly, especially activities involving twisting or pivoting, are at a higher risk of developing a hip labral tear than the rest of the population.
Some hip labral tears can be successfully treated with physical therapy. Treatment involves learning how to avoid straining the hip joint and exercises to restore normal joint motion and build muscle strength. Anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections may help reduce pain and inflammation.
If the damage is more severe, doctors may recommend surgery to either cut away the damaged section of the labrum or repair it.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes cartilage to deteriorate over time. Because cartilage cushions bones from rubbing against each other in joints, the loss of cartilage can be damaging to bone structures. Bones may even respond to the damage by growing spurs, which can increase the pain associated with this condition.
Hip osteoarthritis occurs when this process occurs in the hip. Symptoms can include pain in the hip or groin area, stiffness or trouble moving your hip and pain that flares up when you engage in activity such as exercise.
Osteoarthritis is very common. In the U.S., it’s the most common joint disorder and is especially common in older adults. While this issue is slightly more common in the knee, it’s very common in the hip too.
Osteoarthritis might be treated with lifestyle changes such as losing weight and changing activity levels or types. Physical therapy may be able to help increase the range of motion in a hip impacted by this condition, and both over-the-counter and prescription medications might be used to treat pain associated with the issue. If nonsurgical treatments are not successful, doctors may recommend various surgeries, up to and including a total hip replacement.
Hip pain can reduce your mobility and your quality of life. Don’t suffer through it alone. Our experienced medical teams can diagnose the problem causing your hip pain and help you understand treatment options. Contact us today to make an appointment.