What Is Hip Pain?
Hip pain is the general term for pain felt in or around the hip joint. It is not always felt in the hip itself, but may instead be felt in the groin or thigh.
What Are the Causes of Hip Pain?
Hip pain can be caused by a number of injuries or conditions. The most common cause of acute hip pain is inflamed tendons, often caused by over-exercising. This condition can be very painful, but usually heals within a few days.
The most common cause of long-term hip pain is arthritis, or joint swelling. Arthritis can cause pain, stiff and tender joints, and difficulty walking. There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis can be caused by age-related wearing down of the cartilage that surrounds the joints, or it could be caused by an injury or infection to the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s own immune system launching an attack on the joints. This type may eventually destroy joint cartilage and bones.
Another possible cause of hip pain is trochanteric bursitis. This condition occurs when the bursa (a liquid-filled sac next to a joint) over the hip joint becomes inflamed. Trochanteric bursitis can be caused by any number of factors, including hip injury, overusing the joints, posture problems, or another condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Hip fractures are common in the elderly and in those who suffer from osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones due to age or other factors. Hip fractures cause very sudden, severe hip pain, and they require immediate medical attention. There are a number of complications that can arise from a fractured hip, such as a blood clot in the leg. A hip fracture may require surgery to correct, and you are likely to need physical therapy in order to recover.
There are a number of other, less common conditions that can cause hip pain, too. These include snapping hip syndrome and osteonecrosis.
Snapping hip syndrome (most commonly found in dancers or athletes) is characterized by a snapping sound or feeling in the hip. This snapping may occur when an individual is walking or getting up out of a chair, for example. The condition is usually painless, but can, in some cases, cause pain. Snapping hip with pain is usually a sign of cartilage tear or fragments of material in the hip.
Osteonecrosis occurs when blood does not reach the bones, either temporarily or permanently. This can lead to the loss of bone tissue. Eventually, bones may break or crumple. The causes of osteonecrosis are not always known, but joint injury, heavy use of steroid medications or alcohol, and cancer treatments may put an individual at greater risk for this condition.
When Is Emergency Care Needed for Hip Pain?
Contact a doctor regarding hip pain that lasts longer than a few days so that a treatment plan can be created and any pain can be managed. However, you should contact a doctor immediately if:
- the hip is bleeding or you can see exposed bone or muscle
- a popping noise occurs
- the hip joint appears deformed
- the hip can’t bear weight
- there is a large amount of swelling
- the pain is severe
Prompt medical attention is needed for hip pain accompanied by any swelling, tenderness, soreness, warmth, or redness. These may be signs of serious conditions, including septic arthritis, a joint infection. Left untreated, septic arthritis can lead to deformed joints and osteoarthritis.
How Is Hip Pain Treated?
The treatment of hip pain depends on what is causing it. For exercise-related pain, rest is usually enough to allow the hip to heal. This type of pain is typically gone within a few days.
For pain that could be related to a condition such as arthritis, your doctor will ask you a range of questions: Is the pain worse at a particular time of day? Does it affect your ability to walk? When did your symptoms first present? You may be required to walk around to let your doctor observe the joint in motion.
To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will perform a number of fluid and imaging tests. Fluid tests involve taking samples of blood, urine, and/or joint fluid for testing in a laboratory. Imaging tests may include X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasounds. Imaging tests will provide your doctor with detailed views of your bones, cartilage, and other pertinent tissues.
If arthritis is diagnosed, you will be prescribed medications to relieve pain and stiffness. You may also be referred to a specialist who can offer further advice, and a physiotherapist for exercises to help keep the joint mobile.
For injuries, treatment typically involves bed rest and medications, such as naproxen, to relieve swelling and pain.
Hip fractures, malformation of the hip, and some injuries may require surgical intervention to repair or replace the hip. In hip replacement surgery, the damaged hip joint is replaced with an artificial one. Although hip replacement surgery will take some physical therapy to get used to the new joint, according to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, it is successful greater than 90 percent of the time (Mayo).
Some holistic therapies can provide relief from hip pain. Make sure you discuss treatment options with your doctor before undergoing any alternative treatment.
Possible holistic therapies include seeing a chiropractor for an adjustment, or having acupuncture, which involves the placement of very small needles into key body areas to promote healing.
What Are the Consequences of Untreated Hip Pain?
Hip pain can usually be successfully managed when the cause is identified and the pain treated correctly. For very minor injuries and exercise related accidents, no treatment may be necessary, and your hip may return to normal shortly.
However, for more serious conditions, such as arthritis and fractures, symptoms are likely to worsen until they are treated.