Hip Stiff
Your hip joint helps you sit, stand, walk, run, jump, and more. If you have a stiff hip, these activities are difficult, if not impossible.

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What Is a Stiff Hip?

Your hip joint helps you move from a sitting to standing, walking, running, or jumping position. These activities are difficult, if not impossible, with a stiff hip. Each step or movement can trigger severe pain.

While some stiff hip symptoms may be temporary, others may result in long-term discomfort if left untreated. Knowing when to seek medical care can mean the difference between daily discomfort and pain-free activities.

What Causes a Stiff Hip?

A stiff hip may be the result of a short-term injury or part of a chronic, debilitating condition. Examples of injuries that can occur include a hip fracture, dislocation, or sprain where your hip ligament is stretched or torn.

A hip fracture is considered a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate medical treatment if you suspect you’ve fractured your hip.

You also may experience hip stiffness after exercising due to tight hip flexor muscles (a collection of muscles that help you lift your knees while bending at the waist). This is usually a temporary condition.

Other chronic conditions associated with hip stiffness include:

  • ankylosing spondylitis
  • inflammatory bursitis
  • juvenile arthritis
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes’ disease
  • Lyme disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • trochanteric bursitis
  • tendinitis

What Are the Symptoms of a Stiff Hip?

Hip stiffness is the feeling that your hip joint doesn’t move as easily as it once did, and is generally painful. You may feel as if your hip is clicking or popping as you move. Your range of motion also may be affected. Sometimes hip stiffness may make you move more slowly than you used to be able to.

When to Seek Medical Help

A hip fracture or dislocated hip joint is a common causes of hip stiffness. A fracture may occur after a fall or a blow to your hip. Seek immediate medical treatment if you have the following symptoms:

  • chills
  • fever
  • feeling faint or lightheaded
  • severe pain, especially in the upper thigh or groin. The pain will worsen when you attempt to lift your leg up or rotate it outward.
  • sudden skin rash or redness around the hip
  • visible changes to the hip joint, such as a hip deformity

You should seek urgent medical attention if you continue to experience hip pain or have difficulty in moving the hip joint, even in the absence of a known injury.

How Is a Stiff Hip Diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose a stiff hip by taking your medical history, doing a physical examination, and taking imaging studies.

  • Your medical history involves any medical conditions you’ve been diagnosed with, any recent falls or injuries, a detailed description of your hip stiffness, and a review of other symptoms.
  • A physical examination will include visualizing the hip joint, touching the joint to determine tender areas and the range-of-motion of your hips, and examining you for any difficulties or deformities while you walk.
  • Imaging studies may include an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging scan to identify potential areas of hip fracture or to rule out a ligament or muscle injury.

How Is a Stiff Hip Treated?

Treatment of a stiff hip depends on the underlying cause. For example, a hip fracture is usually corrected with surgery, while a dislocated hip joint may be fixed with surgically or nonsurgically. Arthritis of the hip doesn’t have a cure and is typically treated with anti-inflammatory pain medications and physical therapy.

Examples of at-home treatments for a stiff hip include:

  • applying ice or heat to the affected hip. Always apply with a covering to prevent burns or frostbite to your skin
  • performing physical or occupational therapy exercises at home to improve mobility
  • resting the affected or painful hip joint
  • stretching the hip muscles to reduce tension
  • taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, which can also alleviate the pain

Your doctor may prescribe stronger medications if these interventions aren’t enough to relieve hip stiffness. These include prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), painkillers, and steroids to reduce inflammation. Cortisone shots are also available to relieve hip stiffness.

Ultimately, hip stiffness due to injury or osteoarthritis may require surgical treatment. This includes a total hip replacement, which involves removing the damaged hip portion and replacing it with an artificial hip joint. Surgery is almost always considered a treatment of last resort.

How Can a Stiff Hip Be Prevented?

Hip stiffness isn’t always preventable. However, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the stress and strain placed on your hips. Warming up, stretching, and cooling down properly during an exercise session can help prevent a stiff hip.

Taking precautions to prevent falls in your home also can keep you from a hip sprain or fracture. This includes:

  • applying non-slip strips to your bathtub or shower floors to prevent slips
  • arranging your furniture so you have a clear pathway to walk
  • installing nightlights for the bedroom and bathroom
  • installing handrails on both sides of your stairs
  • lighting your home well, especially on stairways
  • rearranging commonly used items to make them more accessible
  • removing clutter and concealing any cords that could cause you to trip
Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: The Healthline Medical Team
Published: Feb 26, 2015
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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