Hip pain can make it hard to walk, go up and down stairs, squat, or sleep on the side that hurts. A clicking or snapping feeling or sound around your hip joint (snapping hip) may bother you or cause you to worry. But if your hip is not painful, in many cases the click or snap is nothing to worry about. Home treatment may be all that is needed for minor hip symptoms.
To better understand hip problems, it may be helpful to know how the hip works. It is the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body. The thighbone (femur) fits tightly into a cup-shaped socket (acetabulum) in the pelvis. The hip joint is tighter and more stable than the shoulder joint, but it does not move as freely. The hip joint is held together by muscles in the buttock, groin, and spine; tendons; ligaments; and a joint capsule. Several fluid-filled sacs (bursae) cushion and lubricate the hip joint and let the tendons and muscles glide and move smoothly. The largest nerve in the body (sciatic nerve) passes through the pelvis into the leg.
Pain from your hip can come from your lower spine or from any of the structures near your hip joint.
Development of hip problems
Hip problems may develop from overuse, bone changes with age, tumours, infection, changes in the blood supply, or a problem that was present from birth (congenital). Oddly enough, a person who has a hip problem often feels pain in the knee or thigh instead of the hip. The type of hip pain you have may help your doctor determine the cause of your pain.
- Pain when resting does not increase with motion or standing. This type of pain is usually caused by a less severe problem, unless the pain does not go away or awakens you from sleep.
- Pain with movement increases when you move the hip or leg but does not increase when you stand or bear weight. This type of pain is most often caused by a muscle injury, inflammation, or infection.
- Pain with weight-bearing increases when you stand or walk and may cause you to limp. This type of pain usually means you have a problem with the hip joint itself. Pain that is severe enough to prevent any weight-bearing is more likely to mean a serious bone or joint problem.
Further investigations for diagnosing your hip pain:
A diagnosis may be made on the basis of your symptoms alongside your GP examination. However, you may also require further tests depending on what your GP/specialist examination suspects to be the cause of your hip problems. The following tests will support your diagnosis:
- Xray of your hip
- Blood tests
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
- Computerised scan (CT)
Managing hip pain at home
If you do not need to see a doctor straight away, consider managing and monitoring the problem at home.
You may find it helpful to:
- lose weight if you’re overweight to relieve some of the strain on your hip
- avoid activities that make the pain worse, such as downhill running
- wear flat shoes and avoid standing for long periods
- see a physiotherapist for some muscle-strengthening exercises
- take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
When to get medical advice
Hip pain often gets better on its own and can be managed with rest and painkillers you can buy from a pharmacy, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
But see a GP if:
- your hip is still painful after 1 week of resting it at home
- you also have a fever or rash
- your hip pain came on suddenly and you have sickle cell anaemia
- the pain is in both hips and other joints as well
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