Hip pain

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 6, 2016
StartSymptomsHip pain

The hip is a ball and socket joint that connects the leg to the torso of the body. Cartilage surrounds the socket protecting the bones and preventing friction as the bones move. Eventually, wear and tear can damage the cartilage, muscles get can overused and bones can be fractured, all leading to Hip pain.


Definition & Facts

Hip pain is defined as pain felt around the hip joint or in the surrounding area. Though hip pain is commonly felt at the hip joint, it can radiate from other areas such as the back, groin, thigh or buttocks.


There are many reasons for hip pain. The most obvious causes are hip fracture or hip dislocation resulting from a fall or traumatic injury. The more common causes are muscle strains and sprains. Strains are caused by overusing the muscle surrounding the joint, repetitive motion or going beyond one’s physical capability. A sprain involves twisting the joint while putting weight on it resulting in an overstretching of the ligaments.

Another common cause of hip pain is arthritis. Arthritis pain is usually caused by an increase in activity or a repetitive motion that aggravates the hip joint. In some cases, arthritis pain will spread to the hip and surrounding area. There are several types of arthritis that cause hip pain. These include osteoarthritis, tendinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia. Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that forms in the spine, but pain tends to radiate to the hips.

Other conditions that result in radiating hip pain include bulging and herniated discs, and sciatica. Sciatica is pain that travels down the sciatic nerve affecting the back, hips and legs. Another cause of hip pain is obesity. Over time, obesity can put undue stress on the hip joints resulting in osteoarthritis.

When to see a doctor

Hip pain is a common symptom for many ailments so calling a doctor will depend on the type of pain, the situation and what other symptoms the person is experiencing. If a fracture or dislocation is suspected, medical attention is needed immediately. It is best practice to call an emergency service for transport to lower the risk of more injury to the hip. If a person suffers from a fall or injury and has sudden swelling, severe pain or a deformed joint medical attention is needed immediately. Medical attention should also be sought if a person is unable to move the leg or is unable to put any weight on the injured leg.

When the pain is gradual and basic home care such as rest, cold compress, and pain relievers do not help it is a good idea to see a doctor. Aging and arthritis conditions are long term pain management situations that will require a visit to a doctor from time to time. However, there are a few symptoms that may need more immediate care. These include a fever, unexplained weight loss, recurring pain, pain that will not go away or gets worse, limping, and difficulty doing daily activities.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause or condition. For a broken or fractured hip, surgery is required with physical and occupational therapy being part of the rehabilitation process. For most minor injuries, sprains and strains, over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen, rest and ice are used as the first line of aid. Using cold or hot therapy can provide temporary pain relief. Cold therapy involves placing ice on the affected areas. Twenty minutes on and forty minutes off is a safe and effective practice. Hot therapy involves using heat in the same manner.

For medical conditions such as arthritis, low impact exercise can be very helpful. These include stretching activities and resistance training. Water therapy and water aerobics are effective exercises for people with arthritis and similar conditions because the water provides enough resistance for strengthening muscles without adding stress to the joints.

One of the most common forms of therapy is physical therapy. Physical therapy provides a person with a series of exercises that help stretch and strengthen the muscles and joint. All forms of exercise and therapy can help reduce pain, improve joint mobility, increase one’s range of motion and help increase blood circulation for healing. It is important to consult one’s medical doctor before starting any exercise or therapy.

Some basic home care tips include avoiding or reducing activities that aggravate the hip joint or increase pain. When engaging in activities such as walking, it is important to wear comfortable shoes that provide support and to avoid shoes with a high heel. It is also a good idea to avoid activities that involve running, jumping and climbing. Additionally, eating a healthy diet and losing weight can assist in the healing process.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Good health care and safety are key to reducing one’s risk of developing hip pain. People who maintain a healthy weight and diet rich in vitamin D, calcium and magnesium help their body’s maintain strong bones.

In addition, regular exercise helps maintain a body’s strength and flexibility while preserving the joint’s range of motion and reducing the risk of arthritis. Good posture reduces the risk of neck pain and back pain as well as keeps the body’s weight evenly balanced taking away undue pressure and stress on the rest of the body’s core which can eventually lead to hip pain.

As people age, hip pain is inevitable. There are medications and supplements one can take to help reduce the risk of certain types of arthritis such as osteoporosis. There is also a screening test for bone mineral density available for those who are at a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis. For the active person, hip injuries are difficult to prevent. However, there are a few things one can do to reduce the number or severity of injuries. These include wearing good, supportive athletic shoes, stretching the muscles before engaging in any form of exercise or participating in a sport, and using protective padding with contact sports.

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