As the strongest and the second most versatile joints in your body, your hips are inherently resilient. Unfortunately, these key load-bearing joints are also vulnerable to a myriad of painful problems, including:
- Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis)
- Joint inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Acute traumatic injuries (impingement; labral tear)
- Repetitive use injuries (hip bursitis)
Besides supporting your weight and facilitating pain-free mobility, healthy hip joints also help protect against the kind of lower back and knee injuries that are more likely to occur when your hips are compromised by damage, dysfunction, inflammation, and pain.
As board-certified orthopedists who provide comprehensive care for patients with persistent hip pain, our skilled team at Sports Medicine Oregon can get to the bottom of your nagging hip discomfort — and provide a targeted treatment plan that helps you attain effective relief.
Here, we explore four of the most common causes of chronic hip pain.
1. Hip osteoarthritis
As the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) causes the progressive breakdown of the smooth cartilage tissue that cushions the ends of your bones within a joint. Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis or degenerative joint disease, OA is arguably the most frequent cause of persistent hip pain and stiffness.
Early on, OA may simply make the affected hip feel chronically achy. As it advances, however, you may begin to experience irregular joint motion, stiffness, and increasing discomfort that limits your mobility and makes it hard to go up and down stairs, get up out of a chair, or simply go for a walk.
2. Torn labrum
Within your hip joint is a special type of cartilage known as the labrum. Designed to keep the ball of the joint properly positioned within its socket, the labrum forms a tight suction-seal around the top of your thigh bone (femoral head). Besides keeping your hip secure, stable, and fluid, the labrum also acts as a shock absorber to protect your joint from excessive wear.
While the hip labrum is incredibly strong and resilient, it can tear under intense pressure or prolonged strain. In young people, a labral tear is usually a result of a sports injury. In older adults, it’s more likely to be caused by accelerated joint degeneration, either from a structural issue like hip impingement or a chronic condition like OA.
Radiating groin or hip pain is the main symptom of a torn labrum. For many people, the pain associated with this injury feels like it begins deep within the joint. It may spread into the groin or buttocks when you’re active, or make your hip feel overly stiff when you’re resting.
3. Hip bursitis
Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as gliding cushions between skin, bones, muscles, and joints. In large joints, including your hips, major bursae are situated around the tendons. Hip bursitis occurs when something — usually a repetitive use injury or excess body weight — irritates and inflames these fluid-filled cushions, triggering persistent joint pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.
Hip bursitis typically occurs when the large bursa situated over the bony knob near the top of the thigh bone (femur) becomes inflamed. This may cause achy hip pain and tenderness, or it may trigger sharp, limiting joint pain accompanied by warmth and swelling. These symptoms tend to worsen when you sit too long or lie on the affected side.
4. Hip flexor strain
Located at the front of your hip, your hip flexor muscles contract to bring your knee closer to your hip. You use your hip flexors when you walk; they’re also contracted when you sit. Hip flexors reach maximal contraction when you make a high, forward kick that brings your leg above waist height.
As one of the most common sports injuries, hip flexor strain occurs when one or more of the five muscles that make up the hip flexor complex sustains small tears, usually due to overuse. Although this type of hip pain tends to occur in runners, soccer players, dancers, and martial arts participants most often, it can also affect anyone who suddenly exerts themselves much harder than usual.
Besides causing nagging hip pain and tightness, hip flexor strain can make it harder to move normally or walk without limping.
You don’t have to live with hip pain
Luckily, most nagging hip pain problems can be addressed with conservative care. Although a labral tear eventually requires surgery — and advanced OA hip arthritis may eventually call for a joint replacement — emerging hip pain problems often respond well to an initial period of rest, activity modification, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) followed by weight loss as needed, physical therapy, and regular exercise.
If you have hip pain, now’s the time to investigate the problem. Call your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon office in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today, or schedule a visit online.