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Why Does My Hip Hurt?

September 21, 2023

Do you feel pain or discomfort in your hip when you bend over to put on your shoes or while walking up or down stairs? These could be telltale signs of potentially serious problems with your hip.  

Hip problems can have a wide range of causes, including some that have nothing to do with your hip. This pain may be a temporary annoyance that requires little more than rest. Or it may require treatment ranging from medication to surgery. Let’s look at some of the more common causes of hip pain and what it takes to get you back to normal.

Causes of Hip Pain

Hip pain can be a symptom of many conditions. Determining exactly where the pain is located will help your doctors figure out the cause. If you feel pain on the inside of your hip or groin, that usually suggests a problem with your hip joint. When the pain is on the outside of your hip, upper thigh or outer buttock, it’s more likely to be related to soft tissues (including muscles, tendons and ligaments) around the hip joint.

Among the more common culprits:

  • Arthritis: This is swelling and tenderness in your body’s joints. Arthritis causes joint pain and stiffness and tends to get worse as you get older. The most common form of the disease is osteoarthritis, a slow-developing condition that erodes the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones where they form a joint. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, loss of flexibility and a grating sensation when the bones in the joint move against each other.
  • Bursitis: This is swelling in one of the small fluid-filled sacs (bursa) that provides a cushion around your bones. Hip bursitis occurs when your hip bursa is irritated.
  • Injury: There are many ways to hurt your hips. Dancers and athletes who move their hips in all directions are more likely to suffer these injuries. Car accidents and falls are common causes of fractures and other injuries.
  • Repetitive strain:  Repeated activities can put strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your hips. These soft tissues can become inflamed when overused, causing pain and stiffness.
  • Referred pain: Pain in your hip is sometimes a symptom of trouble elsewhere. For example, spinal disc problems – including pinched nerves – can create pain in your hip.

Getting Back to Normal

Finding the best course of treatment for your pain starts with a thorough physical examination and X-rays. If warranted, that’s followed by magnetic resonance imaging to get a detailed look at what’s happening in and around your hip joint.

With any hip injury, the ultimate goal is to help you get back to your original level of performance, whether you’re a high-level athlete or someone who enjoys a hobby on the weekends. For 80 percent to 90 percent of patients, that’s an attainable goal.

After diagnosis, your treatment options may include:

  • RICE: This treatment method is largely an at-home option, involving rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE).
  • Medication: Options include over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen and acetaminophen. In some instances, steroid injections may be used.
  • Physical therapy: This may be an option if your pain is caused by arthritis or structural issues. Stretching exercises can increase your flexibility, build muscle strength and improve stability.

In some cases, surgery may be required. This could include minimally invasive surgeries and larger procedures focused on bony deformities and soft tissue problems causing pain and dysfunction.

With arthroscopic procedures, your doctor will make a few small incisions around your hip. A camera, light and tools are inserted through those incisions to find and repair damage inside your hip. These minimally invasive procedures usually have a faster recovery time.

In more severe cases (including some arthritis patients), a hip replacement may be recommended. In this procedure, all or part of your hip will be replaced with a prosthesis (implant). About 90 percent of these procedures are done on adults older than 50. Recovery can take several months, but the replacement usually lasts for the rest of your life.

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