Periodically, I will have patients who come to see me for a snapping or popping sound arising from their hip. While most say that it is not painful, it is usually described as an annoyance and in some cases, may lead to discomfort. So what is this and what causes it?
The hip joint is made up of the round, ball shaped end of the femur (thigh bone) and the socket (cup) of the pelvis. The joint is supported by strong ligaments (connect bone to bone). Further support is provided by tendons (connect bone to muscle) that attach muscles to the thigh and pelvis. These muscles are what control movement of your hip. The bones that make up your pelvis and femur have prominences or ridges in certain areas. The snapping (or popping) sensation occurs when one of these tendons or muscles slides back and forth over a bony area along your hip. There are several places around the hip where this can occur. Perhaps the most common is along the outside of the hip. The illiotibial band slides back and forth, like a rubber band, from behind the greater trochanter (bony ridge) to just in front of it when you bend and straight you’re hip. This can create a snapping sound.
Snapping of the hip can also occur from the front of the hip, along the back of the hip from the hamstring tendon and deep within the hip socket from a labral tear (cartilage). In some cases, a snapping hip can lead to further problems including hip bursitis.
As to the cause of a snapping hip, it most often results from tightness in the muscles. This condition is also known as “Dancer’s hip.” This is often seen in activities that require repetitive bending at the hip and in adolescents who are going through a growth spurt. Some patient’s develop this condition from having a leg length discrepancy.
A snapping hip does not always require treatment. If it does become painful, an evaluation by an orthopaedic surgeon is recommended. The first line of treatment is usually activity modification and the use of anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation. Your orthopaedic surgeon likely will recommend exercises to stretch the tight muscles and also to strengthen the group of muscles surrounding the hip. A corticosteroid injection may be indicated for those who develop bursitis.