A therapist manipulating their patient's leg to feel their hip pop.

Snapping Hip

Snapping hip syndrome is a relatively harmless condition where a snapping sensation or popping sound is heard in the hip while walking, getting up from a chair, or swinging the leg around. While usually painless and harmless, the condition can be annoying and may lead to other painful hip conditions.

What is Snapping Hip Syndrome?

The hip snapping occurs when a muscle or tendon moves over a bony protrusion in the hip and can lead to a condition called bursitis. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the bone from other moving parts in the area, such as tendons and muscles, essentially a bursa helps the joints work smoothly. Bursitis is when a bursa becomes irritated or inflamed, often because of injury or joint overuse.

The snapping sensation is felt when the tendon or muscle in the hip slides over the bony protrusions, potentially irritating the bursa and causing bursitis. While snapping hip itself isn’t painful and is harmless, it can cause bursitis which is a more painful condition.

Where Snapping Hip Can Develop

Snapping hip can develop in different areas where tendons and muscles slide over the knobs in the hip bones, including:

  • Outside of the hip: this is the most common place for snapping hip to develop and occurs when the IT band (iliotibial) passes over a part of the thigh bone called the trochanter.
  • Front of the hip: A tendon that runs from the front of the thigh up to the pelvis (femoris tendon) moves across the head of the thigh bone when bending the hip and back to the side of the thigh bone when straightening again, causing snapping.
  • Back of the hip: When snapping is felt in the back of the hip, it usually means the hamstring tendon is involved due to it catching on the ischial tuberosity bone. Snapping hip in this region is uncommon though.

Symptoms and Causes of Snapping Hip

Snapping hip syndrome symptoms generally include:

  • Snapping in the front, back, or side of the leg when moving the hip
  • Tightness in the hip, usually the front or the back
  • Swelling in the hip
  • Weakness in the leg
  • Having a hard time moving the hip, such as when standing from a sitting position

Snapping hip usually develops from tightness in the muscles and tendons that surround the hip, especially among sports players and dancers. Younger athletes are more prone to snapping hip due to the tightness in muscle structures common during adolescent growth spurts.

Snapping Hip Syndrome Diagnosis & Treatment

To ensure snapping hip syndrome is the cause of any popping or snapping sensations, a healthcare provider will review your medical history, and symptoms, and perform a physical examination. The doctor will ask where the pain or sensation comes from, what kinds of activities bring about the snapping, and if there has been any injury to the hip area. The doctor may also ask you to stand and move your hip to try and reproduce the snapping, feeling for the tendon moving as you bend or extend your hip.

To help confirm the snapping is caused by snapping hip syndrome and to rule out other possibilities, your healthcare provider may order X-rays.

Treating Snapping Hip

Treating snapping hip usually begins with home remedies, rest, and adjusting how you perform certain activities.

  • Reducing activity levels and applying ice to the affected hip area.
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, to reduce any discomfort from the snapping.
  • Modifying sports or exercise activities to avoid repetitive hip movement, such as reducing bicycle time or swimming with only the arms.

If at-home remedies fail to provide relief, your doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen the musculature surrounding the hip, such as the iliotibial band stretch and piriformis stretch. Remember, physical therapy exercises should be performed at the direction of a physical therapist.

If a hip bursitis has developed, a doctor may recommend a corticosteroid injection to reduce the painful inflammation.

Hip Surgery

In very rare cases, when snapping hip syndrome doesn’t respond to conservative approaches, surgery may be recommended depending on the cause of the snapping.

  • Hip arthroscopy: to remove or repair fragments of a torn labrum using a small camera and miniature surgical instruments.
  • Open hip surgery: using traditionally sized tools, the surgeon makes an incision several centimeters long to fix the cause of snapping hip.

Hip Doctors

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