Hip pain is a relatively common complaint. The pain can indicate a problem in the hip joint itself or can be caused by soft tissue, muscle, tendon or ligament issues in the areas around the hip joint.
The hip joint consists of a ball – called the femoral head – located at the top of the femur (thigh bone). The femoral head fits into the acetabulum, a cup like socket that is part of the pelvis.
Pinpointing the exact location of the hip pain is helpful in determining the cause of the pain.
Cause of hip pain
There are numerous conditions that can cause hip pain. Some common conditions linked to hip pain include:
- Injury – dislocation, fracture, labral tear (injury to cartilage along the edge of the hip socket)
- Inflammation or infection –bursitis, tendinitis, osteomyelitis (bone infection) and sacroiliitis (inflammation of one of the sacroiliac joints)
- Nerve compression – meralgia paresthetica (pinched nerve in outer thigh) or sciatica pain from compression of the sciatic nerve due to herniated disc, bone spur or spinal stenosis
- Arthritis – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and septic arthritis
- Cancer – primary bone cancer, metastatic bone cancer and leukemia
- Other conditions – osteoporosis (bone thinning), avascular necrosis (bone death due to interrupted blood supply), childhood hip disease and femoral or inguinal hernias
Hip pain symptom onset
Depending on the cause, hip pain can come on gradually and may be intermittent. Certain activities such as prolonged walking, stair climbing or bending may trigger hip pain. At first, the pain subsides once the activity ceases. Eventually, the pain worsens, taking longer to subside or becoming nearly constant.
The pain may also migrate, starting initially in the side or back of the hip or groin area and gradually moving down the top of the thigh to the knee.
Hip pain treatment
If pain is not severe, rest may be beneficial. Avoid overuse of the affected hip and apply ice packs intermittently. If tight muscles are causing hip pain, warm moist heat may be used instead.
Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can be used for pain relief. Corticosteroid hip joint injections may also be recommended.
Weight loss, exercise, and medical devices to assist with walking can relieve stress on the hip joint and lessen pain.
If pain is severe, there is deformity, you are unable to bear weight or move your leg or hip, you experience sudden swelling or redness at the hip or fever develops, you should seek medical attention promptly.
Total hip replacement is the most common surgical treatment for hip joint changes due to arthritis.