Better Me

What It Could Mean When Your Hip Snaps, Clicks or Pops

You get up from a chair or out of bed and you feel and hear it—a snapping or clicking in your hip joint. The technical term for it is coxa saltans, but most people call it snapping hip syndrome. Sometimes, you’ll even notice it when you’re walking.

“Snapping hip syndrome is most common in athletes and dancers,” said Sean Sitton, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner Health in Arizona. “Young athletes are particularly prone to it, due to the tight musculature that occurs during rapid growth spurts.”

What causes snapping hip syndrome?

The clicks and pops happen when a muscle or tendon moves over a bony protrusion in your hip joint. “It’s usually due to a person’s specific anatomy, or how their hip was formed,” Dr. Sitton said. There are two types:

  • External snapping is more common, and occurs in the front, side or back of the hip. It’s caused when the hip flexors, iliotibial (IT) band or hamstrings become tight. When they roll over the bony structures of the hip, they create the sensation and sound of snapping.
  • Internal snapping is a deeper sensation in the front of the hip, within the joint itself. It can be caused by a problem involving the fibrocartilage gasket around the hip socket or the cartilage that lines the hip socket.

How can you prevent snapping hip syndrome?

Staying active and building and maintaining good range of motion and strength in your hips and core muscles can help prevent snapping hip syndrome. “That said, it is often seen in athletes and dancers. Sometimes the person’s anatomy and dynamics of the hip joint make them prone to this condition,” Dr. Sitton said.

The good news is, snapping hip syndrome is usually harmless and causes little or no pain. “It can be annoying, but that doesn’t mean that there is damage occurring,” Dr. Sitton said. But in some cases, it can lead to bursitis, or swelling of the tissue that surrounds the hip.

How can you treat snapping hip syndrome?

If you want the popping and clicking to go away:

  • Stop doing the things that trigger it, if possible
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen
  • Apply alternating ice and heat
  • Focus on stretching and strengthening

If snapping hip syndrome is preventing you from doing the things you need to do or want to do, or if you’re not seeing improvement after several weeks, talk to a health professional. “Most people improve with physical therapy, and for some people with bursitis a corticosteroid injection can help. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended,” Dr. Sitton said.

Hip symptoms or pain can stem from more than one cause, and pain from a back or knee problem can show up in the hip. Keep your hips, core, and back strong and flexible to help your hips stay healthy.

The bottom line

Snapping hip syndrome—when you hear a snap, click or pop in your hip—is usually harmless. If it bothers you or if you feel any pain, you can take steps to treat it at home or talk to a health professional.

For more information about problems that strike the hips and legs, check out:

Orthopedics Sports Medicine Physical Therapy