The hip joint is unique in that it’s almost always being put to use, bearing weight with every step that you take. Since it’s constantly moving, the hip joint is the second most commonly affected large joint in the body, prone to injury due to it’s size and mechanical complexity. Imbalances within the muscles surrounding the hip may lead to pain if the muscles are overworked or overcompensating for a lack of stability. When hip pain is present, the first key to treatment is to pinpoint the source and reason for the pain.
Where is my hip pain coming from?
Hip pain could be the result of any number of factors, including lifestyle, physical injuries, mechanical problems, musculoskeletal conditions, or even something as simple as the type of shoes that you wear. Your age, injury history, and the types of physical activities that you regularly engage in are also necessary details to consider. It’s important to determine whether the pain is the result of a long-term condition of the joint (chronic hip pain) or the result of a specific impact or trauma (an acute injury).
Chronic Hip Pain: Long-term hip pain can develop due to issues of overuse—repetitive and demanding movements—or any past trauma to the joint that went untreated. Tight hip flexors or weak glutes are common precursors to chronic hip pain. If you experience muscle tightness, it may be the product of your muscles compensating for weakness elsewhere or a result of being held in a shortened position for long periods of time. If you sit at a desk for a good portion of the day, your glutes are not activated and your hip flexors stay in a constant shortened position. Infrequent use may cause your glutes to forget how to “turn on” when needed, making them more prone to injury.
Your gait can also affect your hip flexors. If you’re over-reliant on your knees or quads when you walk or run, your glutes are not being engaged and your body compensates for the imbalance by tightening your hip flexors. The snowball effect continues as your weak glutes cause your hip and pelvis to be off, leading to wear and tear of the hip joint. Other chronic hip pain conditions include:
Sciatica and Piriformis Syndrome (caused by inflammation)
Snapping Hip (tension resulted from the muscle rubbing on the bone)
Trochanteric Bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sac underneath the IT)
Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI) (bone overgrowth)
SI Joint (muscle imbalances below the lumbar spine and above the tailbone)
Chronic conditions left untreated can develop osteoarthritis and cause continuous damage to the cartilage and tendons surrounding the hip joint.
Acute Hip Pain: Sudden pain in the hip is usually a result of a direct physical injury like falling or abnormally twisting the hip. Symptoms can range from bruising and swelling to more severe symptoms like the inability to put weight on the hip or move in a normal manner. Acute injuries of the hip can result in fractures, inflammation, or injury to surrounding tissues.
When should I seek treatment for hip pain?
If your hip pain affects your general mobility, gait, or sleep, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. Remember that there are a wide range of symptoms when it comes to hip pain and determining whether your pain is acute or chronic will help improve and optimize your treatment program. Based on the severity of your symptoms, it’s possible that surgery may be the best course of action. In other cases, the injury may be inflammatory in which case surgery is less helpful. In either case, most people find that physical therapy is a good place to start the course of treatment, especially if symptoms are not yet severe.
How can a physical therapist help with my hip pain?
With or without a surgical procedure, incorporating physical therapy into the treatment of hip pain will result in quicker healing, less pain, and a reduced risk of future injury. The goal of treatment is to allow you to resume your everyday activities unrestricted by hip pain. During your initial evaluation, your physical therapist will review your medical history and gather specific details around your hip condition, such as the location of the pain and when it started to occur. Your treatment will begin with passive motions performed by your physical therapist to move your leg and hip and will progress to active exercises that you can perform at home. They may incorporate other key factors into your treatment, such as:
Manual therapy to increase mobility and tissue healing of irritated structures around the hip which prevent proper movement.
Muscle mobilizations or small and specific movements known as “glides” will help stretch and strengthen the tissue around your hip joint to restore the full range of motion.
Custom exercises to strengthen the muscles that support and protect the hip, increase functional movement, and decrease the risk of further injury.
Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat hip pain, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and better than ever! To learn more about how to prevent hip pain or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.Request an Appointment
Video: Hip – Trade Off Between Stability and Mobility
Therapydia Lake Oswego Physical Therapist Jen Craft, DPT discusses hip joint pain and how physical therapy can help.