When you walk, get up from a chair or swing your leg around, do you feel or hear a “snapping” sensation in your hip? Snapping hip is usually painless and harmless, although the sensation can be annoying. Young athletes and dancers frequently experience snapping hip.
Causes of snapping hip
The snapping sensation results from the movement of a muscle or tendon (the tough, fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone) over a bony structure. In the hip, the most common site is at the outer side where a band of connective tissue (the iliotibial band) passes over the broad, flat portion of the thighbone known as the greater trochanter (tro-KAN-ter).
When the hip is straight, the band is behind the trochanter. When the hip bends, the band moves over the trochanter so that it is in front of it. The band is always tight, like a stretched rubber band. Because the trochanter juts out slightly, the movement of the band across it creates the snap you hear. Eventually, this could lead to hip bursitis. Bursitis is thickening and inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that allows the muscle to move smoothly over bone.
Another tendon that could cause a snapping hip runs from the inside of the thighbone up through the pelvis. As you bend the hip, the tendon shifts across the head of the thighbone; when you straighten the hip, the tendon moves back to the side of the thighbone. This back-and-forth motion across the head of the thighbone causes the snapping.
A tear in the cartilage or some bone debris in the hip joint can also cause a snapping or clicking sensation. This type of snapping hip usually causes pain and may be disabling. A loose piece of cartilage can cause the hip to catch or lock up.
Most people don’t bother seeing a doctor unless they’re feeling some pain. The doctor will first want to determine the exact cause of the snapping. You may be asked where it hurts, what kinds of activities bring on the snapping, whether you can demonstrate the snapping or if you’ve experienced any trauma to the hip area. You may also be asked to stand and move your hip in various directions to reproduce the snapping. The physician may even be able to feel the tendon moving as you bend or extend your hip.
X-rays are typically normal, but may be requested along with other tests so that the doctor can rule out any problems with the bones or joint.
- If your snapping hip is painless, no treatment is needed.
- If it bothers you, reduce your activity levels and apply ice.
- Stretching exercises prescribed by your physician or a physical therapist can help.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may reduce discomfort.
- If you’ve developed hip bursitis, your physician may recommend an injection of a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation.
- Modify your sport or exercise activities to avoid repetitive movement of the hip. For example, reduce time spent on a bicycle; swim using your arms only.
- In the very rare cases that do not respond to conservative treatment, surgery may be recommended. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of the snapping hip.