Your hips have a big job to do every day. They give you mobility and stability, supporting the weight of your body. But when one or both of your hips hurt, the pain can make it hard to do everyday activities and the things you love the most like hiking or gardening.
So, the big question on your mind might be: What’s causing my hip pain and what can I do about it?
Since your hips do a lot of work each day, you could just be experiencing a little soreness – especially if you’ve been more active lately. But depending on the location of the pain and the symptoms you’re experiencing, your pain may be caused by another condition.
Keep reading to learn more about different hip pain symptoms, common conditions associated with hip pain, risk factors, when you should talk to a doctor and more.
Common symptoms of hip problems
Hip pain feels different for everyone, but the most common symptoms of hip pain include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced range of motion
- Changes in the way you walk (gait changes)
- Cracking, creaking or popping sounds as you walk, bend or sit
- “Catching” feeling or pain in your groin
- Pain that spreads or radiates from the groin into the front or side of your thigh or buttock
Common causes of hip pain
The best way to figure out the cause of your hip pain is to talk with an orthopedic specialist. But below we highlight some of the most common root causes of hip pain.
As we get older, so do our joints. And these normal age changes can lead to osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis in adults. This happens when the cartilage that cushions your bones and joints begins to deteriorate, which can lead to pain.
Hip pain from osteoarthritis is often felt in the groin area but can also be felt in the outer thigh or upper buttock area.
The good news is that pain from osteoarthritis can often be managed with staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and other healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, physical therapy can be a great way to relieve hip pain and improve mobility issues.
Typically, you don’t need a referral for physical therapy, but it’s a good idea to talk with your insurance company to understand your coverage before making an appointment.
Steroid injections or orthobiologics (also called regenerative medicine) may also be recommended. But a hip replacement – which are extremely common – may be recommended in the future.
Other types of arthritis that might cause hip pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis (or just RA) is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. This means it occurs when your immune system attacks healthy body tissue. RA can lead to fatigue, slight fever and pain in the joints, including the hips.
- Psoriatic arthritis – Often linked with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis can lead to swelling in the fingers, scaly patches on the skin and fatigue. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause joint pain, which may be felt in your hips.
There are small, fluid-filled sacks throughout your body that help cushion the bones, tendons and muscles near your joints. These are called bursae, and when they become inflamed, the condition is known as bursitis.
While injury, trauma and conditions like RA or gout can cause bursitis, the most common cause of bursitis is repetitive motion or positions that put pressure on a bursae.
So, those who have jobs or hobbies that require repetitive hip flexing motion like laying flooring, painting or gardening are more likely to get bursitis. And the good news is that bursitis usually goes away on its own in a few weeks if you rest the affected joint. But if you have a history of bursitis, flare-ups can be common.
From sprains and strains, to tears and fractures, there are a range of hip injuries that can cause different types of hip pain.
Hip sprain or hip strain
Sprains involve ligaments. Strains involve muscles. But they both happen when either the ligament or muscle has been stretched beyond its limit. Athletes are especially prone to sprains and strains, but anybody can get this kind of acute injury if they suddenly increase activity or overstretch. Symptoms of a hip sprain or strain often include:
- Sudden sharp pain in your hip
- Pain that increases with activity
- Swelling, stiffness, tenderness or bruising on your hip
Tendonitis is another overuse injury. While it can be especially common among athletes, it can affect anyone. Usually, symptoms of hip tendonitis can include:
- Tenderness in the front of your hip, groin or pelvis
- You may also feel pain in the front, side or towards your buttock
- Hip stiffness in the morning or after long periods of rest
- Pain that lessens as you move more or warm up for an activity, but returns later in the day
Hip labral tear
The cartilage on the outside rim of the hip socket is called the labrum. It cushions the joint and acts as a sort of seal to keep the top of your thighbone in your hip socket. When this cartilage is torn (labral tear), you may not have any symptoms. But for those that do, a hip labral tear may cause:
- Pain in the hip or groin that often increases with long periods of standing, sitting or activity
- Hip stiffness or limited range of motion
- Locking, clicking or a catching sensation when you move your hip
Hip stress fracture
Stress fractures are often related to repetitive “loading” activities such as running of the hips and legs. The good news is that hip stress fractures often don’t require surgery – though some might. An X-ray and MRI can help with a definitive diagnosis and treatment next steps.
Hip fracture (broken hip)
A hip fracture is a very serious injury that requires immediate medical attention and almost always requires surgery to fix or replace the hip joint. The risk for a hip fracture increases with age, especially for those with osteoporosis. Hip fracture symptoms include:
- Not being able to get up after a fall
- Severe hip or groin pain
- Inability to put weight on the leg with the injured hip
- Hip bruising or swelling
- The leg with the injured hip appears shorter or turns outward
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one has a hip fracture, call 911.
Your body contains miles of nerves and there are a few near the spine that can lead to hip pain and other symptoms if they’re compressed. Pinched nerves can happen for a number of reasons such as changes to the spine due to aging, repetitive motion, overstress and more.
Similar to other common causes of hip pain, a pinched nerve may cause sharp, burning or aching pain in the hip or groin area. But it can sometimes spread to your lower back, buttocks and down your leg. Other symptoms of a pinched nerve near your hip are:
- Tingling or numbness in your hip and down your leg
- Weakness or reduced mobility in your hip and leg
Sciatica is characterized by pain in your lower back, buttock, hip and your leg. Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerves or the related nerve root are irritated. The sciatic nerves form from nerve roots in the lower back and then continue down through your hips and buttocks.
Sciatica pain symptoms are not usually localized to one area. Most people feel pain in their lower back as well as their hip, buttock and leg – and the leg pain can be the worst.
Hip pain risk factors
There are many factors that contribute to your risk for hip pain, including your age, sex, physical condition and history of hip injuries.
You may be at higher risk for hip pain if you are:
- Overweight: People who are overweight may be at more risk for hip pain because carrying extra weight tends to place more pressure on a person’s hips.
- Physically active: Strenuous activity, especially without proper warm-up and cooldown periods, can lead to hip pain.
- Inactive: Physical inactivity can lead to muscle weakness, which may increase your risk of hip pain.
- Prone to hip injuries: People with a history of hip injuries are more likely to experience hip pain, even after recovering from previous trauma.
- Dealing with a medical condition: Some medical conditions such as hip instability, hip dysplasia and arthritis can increase your chances of experiencing hip pain.
It’s important to remember that you may encounter pain in your hips even if none of these factors apply to you.
Your hip pain may go away on its own with rest. But if your hip pain persists, you should talk with an orthopedic specialist. A combination of treatments may be recommended to manage your hip pain and heal the underlying cause.
Common hip pain treatments include:
- Physical activity – The best treatment for any pain is prevention. If you are at risk for hip pain, taking a proactive approach to your hip health can help prevent issues. Exercise, a healthy lifestyle and preventive care can help to reduce the chances or severity of hip pain.
- Over-the-counter medication – For less severe hip pain, over-the-counter pain relievers or topical ointments may help. Over-the-counter medication should only be used temporarily. If your hip pain persists, it may be time for another treatment option.
- Physical therapy – As we mentioned earlier, in addition to home remedies, physical therapy can be a great first step in relieving hip pain. That’s because movement is key to keeping our joints in good working order. And working with a trained physical therapist can help you find the best exercises or stretches to help heal pain and improve mobility.
- Injections – Steroid injections may help provide extended hip pain relief.
- Surgery – While hip replacement surgery is extremely common for older adults in the United States, it’s usually recommended when other nonsurgical treatment options have lost their effectiveness and you’re unable to do certain daily activities due to pain. An orthopedic specialist can help you determine whether a hip replacement is the best option for you.
When should I talk to a doctor about my hip pain?
Anytime you’re in pain, don’t ignore it. If pain has come on suddenly after an injury or your symptoms seem to be worsening, make an appointment with a hip specialist or find a local orthopedic urgent care near you.
If you’ve been using home remedies to manage nagging hip pain, but it’s not improving, a great first step is making an appointment with a physical therapist. They’re experts in helping heal both acute and chronic hip pain.
Your physical therapist can work with you to create a personalized treatment plan based on your unique needs to help you get back to your favorite activities.