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Hip Pain

Any level of hip pain can slow you down and be life changing. From injury to age and even poor posture, there could be many reasons you have hip pain. The first step to helping with the pain is determining the cause.

What are common causes of hip pain?

The location of your hip pain can help your health care provider identify what is causing the problem. For example, pain on the inside of your hip or groin may be caused by problems with the hip joint, like arthritis. Pain on the outside of the hip, upper thigh or glutes (your bottom) may mean muscle, tendon, ligament or other soft tissue problems. The pain could also be coming from your back.

A few of the more common causes of hip pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis of the hip
  • Hip bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, the fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between your bones, tendons and muscles) 
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hip impingement
  • Damage to soft tissues (or muscles) surrounding the hip
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Low back arthritis
  • Muscle strain or muscle weakness
  • Snapping hip syndrome
  • Poor posture or sleep position
  • Avascular necrosis (dead bone tissue due to lack of blood supply)
  • Piriformis syndrome

In some cases, hip pain can be caused by conditions or diseases in other parts of the body, such as the lower back. This is known as referred pain.

Although hip dysplasia or stress fractures can cause hip pain, it is rare.

When should I go to the doctor for hip pain?

Minor hip pain may seem tolerable, but it can get in the way of day-to-day life or keep you from your favorite activities.  Some pain may get worse if it’s not treated. If you have minor hip pain, you may want to try a few at-home remedies:

  • Rest the affected hip by avoiding bends and direct pressure on the joint.
  • Apply ice or heat to prepare for stretching exercises.
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever medication, like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), to ease swelling and pain. Always talk to your doctor before starting any medication.

Seek medical attention if these methods don’t work or if any of these things are also happening:

  • You can’t move your hip or leg
  • You can’t bear your weight on the affected leg
  • Your hip joint looks strange or out-of-place
  • Sudden swelling
  • Intense pain
  • Signs of infection, such as redness, fever or chills

How is hip pain diagnosed?

To diagnose hip pain, your doctor will ask you a few questions about your pain. They may also watch you walk to see if there is any unusual motion in the hip or if your gait is not normal.

Most commonly, your doctor will order X-rays to initially evaluate your hip joint.  Additional imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans, ultrasounds or bone density scans may also be done to help your doctor determine if another condition is causing your discomfort. Your doctor may also take some lab tests (blood, joint fluid or urine) to determine if you have an infection.

Lifestyle changes and medication

Osteoarthritis is a common cause of hip pain. In some cases, symptoms can be managed with lifestyle adjustments like changes in diet, exercise and losing weight. OTC anti-inflammatory medications may also help lessen your hip pain. 

Treatment options for hip pain

The best treatment for your hip pain depends on what is causing it. For some people, gentle movement, better posture and muscle strengthening can fix the problem. For others, more hands-on physical therapy, medication injections or surgery may be needed to help with your pain.   

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can help you learn safe exercises to do to treat your hip pain. Physical therapists don’t just work with athletes. They help people of all ages feel better, allowing you to get back to your favorite activities. 

In addition to light exercises in the clinic, your physical therapist will create a movement plan that combines flexibility and strength training to make your hip feel better. They may also recommend activities like yoga or swimming to help with your recovery. Speak with your health care provider to see if physical therapy is an option for you.   

Hip injections

A hip injection may also be used to help manage hip pain and improve your function. During this procedure, medicine (usually a corticosteroid) may be injected into the hip joint. Hip injections are sometimes performed at your orthopedic provider's office and sometimes they are performed using an X-ray or ultrasound. If your pain is being caused by hip bursitis, your provider will likely perform an injection in their office.   

A corticosteroid hip injection is commonly used to treat symptoms associated with conditions like osteoarthritis and bursitis.

Pain relief from injections can vary from person to person. Although their effectiveness may last for several months, this treatment may not result in permanent relief and may require periodic injections to treat the symptoms associated with your hip issue.   

Hip scope (hip arthroscopy)

A hip scope (or hip arthroscopy) is a minimally-invasive surgery that uses a miniature camera attached to a flexible tube to look at the hip from the inside of the body. Hip arthroscopy is sometimes used if a patient has a tissue injury, hip impingement, bone spurs or inflammation.

In some cases, the surgeon can also perform minor repairs during a hip scope, such as cleaning out loose tissues that may be irritating the joint. Hip scopes are very common and patients often go home on the same day as the surgery.  Hip arthroscopy is not generally done for patients with arthritis.   

Hip replacement surgery

If your hip pain is extreme, your hip has more damage (such as severe hip arthritis) or medicines and exercises no longer help, hip surgery may be recommended. This surgery replaces your damaged bone and tissue with artificial parts. Because of newer technology, incisions are kept small and patients are usually back to normal activity in six to 12 weeks (about three months).

Learn more about hip replacement surgery

How can I prevent hip pain?

Although accidents happen, you can be proactive and prevent hip pain by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising and stretching regularly with proper form to keep a healthy range of motion
  • Eating a balanced diet full of vitamin C, collagen, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods

Getting treatment for your hip pain

If you are experiencing hip pain, speak with your primary care physician or schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist at Banner Health. You can also check the level of your joint pain and learn more about your hip health by taking our free Joint Pain Test.