Hip Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is hip pain?

Hip pain may be a symptom of a hip fracture, which is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a visible deformity of the hip or severe hip pain, or are unable to walk normally after a fall or other injury.

Hip pain includes any type of pain or discomfort in your inner or outer hip area. The hip is the joint where the thigh and the pelvis meet. Hip pain can be tender, dull, achy, excruciatingly sharp, or a feeling of burning and tingling. Hip pain can be constant or it can be felt only when you make certain movements, such as squatting, lunging or turning. Hip pain can begin suddenly or gradually build over weeks or months.

Pain in the hip can be a symptom of injuries ranging from a slight muscle strain to a major bone fracture. Hip pain can also be a symptom of a disease, disorder or condition, such as arthritis, bursitis, cancer or osteoporosis. Causes of hip pain include problems with the hip itself, or a problem that begins in another area of your body, such as your back or knee. This type of pain is called referred hip pain.

Hip pain can occur in infants, children, adolescents, adults and seniors for reasons that can be specific to each age group. For example, hip pain is particularly common and significant in seniors because it can be a symptom of osteoarthritis of the hip or a hip fracture. Both conditions can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

What other symptoms might occur with hip pain?

Hip pain can occur in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary widely depending on the underlying injury, disease, disorder or condition. These symptoms can include:

  • Back pain

  • Knee or ankle pain

  • Limping, shuffling, or difficulty walking

  • Pain, tenderness, burning or tingling in the buttocks, legs, groin, back, pelvis or thigh

  • Snapping, popping or clicking sensation in the hip

  • Stiffness of the hip and limited range of motion

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, hip pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have fallen or other serious symptoms including:

  • Deformity of the hip or thigh

  • General weakness

  • Inability to walk, put weight on your hip, or flex your hip

  • One leg appears shorter than the other

  • Outward rotation of a foot or leg

  • Severe hip or pelvic pain

What causes hip pain?

Hip pain can be caused by an injury, disorder, disease or condition of the hip or referred from another area of the body. Hip pain can develop in anyone, from high-performing athletes to people who live a sedentary lifestyle. Hip pain is particularly common and significant in seniors because it can be a symptom of osteoarthritis of the hip or a hip fracture.

Injuries that can cause hip pain

Hip pain can arise from the following injuries to the hip and other areas:

  • Thigh muscle strain

Diseases and disorders that can cause hip pain

Hip pain can be caused by the following diseases and conditions:

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)
  • Cancer from another part of the body that has spread to the hip area (metastatic cancer)
  • Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI; hip joint damage caused by too much friction)
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (also known as Perthes disease; a temporary loss of blood supply to the hip that occurs in children)
  • Osteoarthritis (type of arthritis characterized by degeneration of the cartilage and bone in the joints)
  • Osteonecrosis of the hip (loss of blood flow to the head of the femur, resulting in tissue death)
  • Osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (a shift of the hip bones that occurs in adolescents)
  • Tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)

When should you see a doctor for hip pain?

In many cases, minor hip pain resolves with self-care at home. However, there are times when seeing a doctor is the safest option to determine the extent of the injury or diagnose more serious causes.

See a doctor promptly when hip pain:

  • Affects both hips or other joints are painful too

  • Begins suddenly

  • Causes limping, changes in gait, or difficulty walking or climbing stairs

  • Persists for more than a week despite home treatments

Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room for hip pain when:

  • The hip has severe bruising (discoloration) or bleeding that will not stop.

  • The pain is intense or severe.

  • There is an obvious deformity of the hip or leg, such as the leg turned abnormally.

  • You also have a fever, rash, or signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and swelling.

  • You cannot bear weight on the affected leg or move it.

  • Your toes become numb or turn blue.

How is the cause of hip pain diagnosed?

Your primary care doctor may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon to diagnose the cause of hip pain. This specialist may ask you several questions related to your hip pain including:

  • Where in the hip does it hurt? In the front or back? Does it feel deep or superficial (closer to the skin)?

  • When and how did your hip pain start?

  • Can you describe the pain? Is it sharp, dull, achy, throbbing or burning?

  • Is the pain constant or does it come and go?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain ever, how would you rate your hip pain?

  • What, if anything, makes the pain better or worse?

  • Does your hip pain make it hard to walk, interfere with activities, or interrupt your sleep?

  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as numbness or tingling?

  • Are any other joints painful?

  • What other medical conditions do you have?

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, paying attention to your hip, thighs and back. These body parts are all connected and an injury or problem in one can affect the other. Your doctor may want to watch the way you walk as well.

Based on the exam and your answers, your doctor may recommend imaging exams. This may include X-rays, bone scans, CT (computed tomography) scans, and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). Blood tests may be necessary if your doctor thinks an infection or autoimmune disease is to blame.

It is not always possible to diagnose an underlying cause or condition. If the problem persists and your provider is unable to determine a cause, seeking a second opinion may give you more information and answers.

How do you treat hip pain?

Treating hip pain depends on the cause and severity of the pain. The treatment goals are to relieve the pain and correct any underlying cause or physical problem. In many cases, doctors start with conservative and noninvasive treatments including:

  • Assistive devices, such as canes and crutches to keep weight off the hip

  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and modifying activities

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), to treat pain and inflammation

  • Physical therapy to increase hip strength, function and flexibility. A physical therapist also uses various methods to improve your pain, such massage, stretching, and specific exercises for hip pain relief.

  • Steroid injection into the hip, which can relieve pain for about two months. Doctors may repeat the injection once or twice if the pain returns. However, joint injections are not for long-term use.

If hip pain persists with these treatments, doctors may recommend surgery. Surgery may be appropriate earlier if doctors can find a specific cause that will respond well to it, such as labrum repair.

Home remedies for hip pain

Minor hip pain often responds well to home remedies including:

  • Applying an ice pack to the hip for 20-minute intervals and repeating this several times a day.

  • Applying heat with a heating pad. Some people prefer heat to relieve pain and increase comfort. However, it is not as effective as cold therapy at relieving inflammation. 

  • Hydrotherapy with a hot shower, hot tub, or warm bath with Epsom salts

  • Placing a pillow between your knees to align your hips while you sleep and avoiding sleeping on the affected hip.

  • Resting the hip by taking a break from activities that aggravate the pain. Allow time for healing before resuming activities.

  • Stretching the hips and low back.

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers. NSAIDs treat pain and swelling from minor injuries, but not everyone can take them. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an alternative pain reliever, but it won’t help inflammation.

Alternative treatments for hip pain

Many people with hip pain, especially from osteoarthritis, turn to alternative medicine to find relief. The combination of glucosamine and chondroitin is a popular choice. Research has shown mixed results about whether the supplement is effective or not. Regardless, people seeking pain relief often want to give it a try. Talk with your doctor before starting this, or any other supplement, to make sure it is safe with your other conditions and medications.

What are the potential complications of hip pain?

The complications of untreated or poorly controlled hip pain vary depending on the underlying injury, disease, disorder or condition. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you. Complications of chronic hip pain or underlying causes of hip pain include:

  • Deterioration and deformity of the hip joint

  • Development of bone spurs

  • Difficulty walking and disability

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent joint immobility

  • Permanent joint instability

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Spread of cancer (metastasis)
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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