Why does my hip pop?

Many people experience popping in their hips. Most patients come to the clinic complaining of back or knee pain, and a popping hip may be a secondary complaint. Although typically not a significant pain generator, popping in the hip is a sign of an underlying dysfunction in the hip needing to be addressed. If the popping in the hip is not attended to, more serious orthopedic issues may arise down the road.  

Causes

There are three main causes of a popping hip – external, internal, and intra-articular. External is most frequent and refers to the iliotibial (IT) band snapping over the greater trochanter of the femur. Internal is also common and refers to the iliopsoas (hip flexor) tendon snapping over a bony prominence on the pelvis or at the lesser trochanter of the femur. Intra-articular is least common and refers to a floating loose body within the joint such as a torn labrum. External and internal variations are often due to gradual onset, whereas an intra-articular loose body is often due to trauma. There is a higher incidence of hip popping in females, especially those who perform sports requiring repetitive flexion and extension of the hip such as gymnastics, dance, soccer, and running.  

How to fix it 

Popping in the hip is often related to a stability issue in the hip or the core. To address this, work to improve your hip stability in all three planes of motion. Train slowly, controlling the motion to avoid the pop. Train only through ranges of motion where you can avoid the pop, and gradually increase the range of motion as your stability improves. The external hip pop (ITB over greater trochanter) is often related to poor hip stability in the frontal plane (abduction/adduction), and increasing strength of muscles such as the gluteus medius will be helpful in decreasing the external hip pop. The internal hip pop relates to the iliopsoas muscle. The iliopsoas muscle has shared attachments with the diaphragm. If the diaphragm is not providing a solid anchor point for the iliopsoas muscle, function of the hip flexor will be impaired increasing the likelihood of an internal hip pop. For this, focus working on diaphragmatic breathing to create better stability patterns in your core. Intra-articular hip popping requires an in-depth examination to determine which structures may be injured and to determine the best course of care.

To know exactly which exercises and treatments are best for you, it is important to seek out a therapist who understands hip biomechanics and can help you address the specific stability limitations causing the pop. Whatever the cause, popping in the hip should not be ignored. Even if caused by mild muscle imbalance, a popping hip can worsen over time if not addressed early.  

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm.  Check out his bio here.

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