The large bones that make up the hip joint also serve as anchors for several muscles. Some of these muscles move down the thigh to the knee; others move across the abdomen or the buttocks. When overuse or injury stretches or tears the muscle fibers, the resulting injury is called a strain.
Most of the time, muscle strains in the hip area occur when a stretched muscle is forced to contract suddenly. A fall or direct blow to the muscle, overstretching and overuse can tear muscle fibers, resulting in a strain. The risk of muscle strain increases if you had a prior injury in the area, do not warm up properly before exercising or attempt to do too much too quickly. Strains may be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of the injury.
Signs and symptoms
- Pain over the injured muscle is the most common symptom of a hip strain.
- Using the muscle aggravates the pain.
- Swelling may also be present, depending on the severity of the strain.
- There may be a loss of strength in the muscle.
Diagnosing the injury
Your physician will ask you about your activities just prior to feeling the pain, apply pressure to various muscles in the area and move your leg or hip in various directions. You may be asked to do certain exercises or stretch in specific ways to help determine which muscle is injured. An X-ray will be used to rule out the possibility of a stress fracture of the hip, which has similar symptoms, including pain in the groin area, with weightbearing. In most cases, no additional tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis.
In general, treatment and rehabilitation are designed to relieve pain, restore range of motion, and restore strength, in that order. RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is the standard protocol for mild to moderate muscle strains. Gently massage the area with ice to help decrease swelling. Take aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce swelling and ease pain. Compression shorts or a wrap bandage may also be helpful. If walking causes pain, limit weightbearing and consider using crutches for the first day or two after the injury.
After the first couple of days, you can use heat therapy, including hot soaks, heat lamps, or heating pads, as well. Avoid the activity that caused the strain for 10 to 14 days. During that time, you can rebuild muscle strength and endurance with stretching and strengthening exercises. If the pain returns, stop and go back to easier activities that do not cause pain. Severe muscle strains may require a longer rehabilitation time.
Preventing hip strains
Several techniques can help you avoid straining the muscles around the hip. The most important technique is to stretch properly before doing any kind of exercising. Stretch muscles slowly and hold the stretch instead of doing large numbers of rapid stretches. You can also reduce your risk of hip strains if you:
- Warm up before stretching; warming up first enables you to stretch more effectively.
- Participate in a conditioning program for muscle fitness and flexibility.
- Wear or use appropriate protective gear during sports.