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Goodbye, Hip Pain: Your Guide to Prevention and Treatment

Our hips can handle a heavy load of wear and tear. Yet despite their durability, overuse and time can cause cartilage and tendons to wear down, resulting in pain and mobility problems. The good news is most general hip pain can improve with self-care and physical therapy.

“All treatment programs are different depending on the diagnosis,” says Travis Maak, MD, associate professor and director of the Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship at University of Utah Health. “But the majority of patients can recover and resume their active lives with non-surgical treatments.”

What’s Causing My Hip Pain?

Hip pain can be caused by a traumatic injury, but it’s most commonly the result of overuse, repetitive movements, or a muscle imbalance. Some inflammatory ailments that can develop over time include:

  • Bursitis: This occurs when bursae—fluid-filled sacs that cushion the tendons, bones, and muscles near the joint—become inflamed. Symptoms include sharp pain that radiates into your thigh, an ache that spreads throughout your hip, and worsening pain at night.
  • Labral Tear: This happens when the labrum—a ring of cartilage that lines the rim of the hip socket—is damaged due to too much stress, overuse, or a traumatic injury. Symptoms include sharp pain in the front of the hip, clicking or popping, stiffness, and difficulty moving the hip.
  • Femoroacetabular Impingement: This occurs when the ball of the hip joint pinches up against the cup of the hip. This can cause cartilage damage and lead to arthritis. Symptoms include pain or stiffness in the groin and worsening pain from bending over or sitting.
  • Osteoarthritis: Commonly known as “wear-and-tear arthritis,” osteoarthrosis affects many people as they age, especially among active people. Symptoms include pain that flares up with activity, pain in the groin area, stiffness and swelling, and limited range of motion.

Why Is My Hip Popping?

It can be unnerving to hear a snap or pop in the hip while taking your daily walk. Yet before you book a visit to urgent care, be aware that this is a common condition that often affects young, active people (late teens to mid 40s), especially among dancers and athletes who play sports that involve a great deal of bending and squatting such as baseball, hockey, football, and kickboxing.

To alleviate the popping, Maak recommends strength training and cross-training to help build key muscles groups in your lower body.

“Strength training is so important if you want to continue to play the sports that you love,” Maak says. “If you use your body the same way all the time, you can cause an imbalance in your muscles, resulting in hip pain and other ailments.”

Note: If you’re experiencing hip popping after an injury or traumatic event—or if it is accompanied by pain in the groin—book an exam with your doctor right away.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Typically, hip pain can be treated at home with rest, over-the-counter medications, and strength training. If you’re experiencing ongoing pain, book an exam with your doctor. Treatment plans commonly include:

  • Rest and modified daily activities
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Prescription medications and injections
  • Strength-training physical therapy exercises

If you’re not seeing any results after six to eight weeks, talk to your doctor about a diagnostic exam, which may include imaging tests and a consultation with a specialist about surgical options.

How Can I Prevent Hip Pain?

Aches and pains are inevitable as we age. But we can prevent chronic ailments and sports injuries by staying in shape and, yes, eating our fruits and veggies.

“The best thing we can do to avoid hip pain is to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Maak says. “The body is designed to move, so it’s important to stay active and not become significantly overweight. If you’re unable to walk or run, try low weight-bearing exercises like cycling or swimming. Where there’s a will, there’s a way."

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