Popping in Your Hip? It Could Be Snapping Hip Syndrome.

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woman with hip pain sitting on bed
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Do you ever notice a pop or snap in your hip? Certain movements may cause the sound or sensation as a hip tendon or muscle slides over the bone. This condition is commonly known as snapping hip syndrome (SHS). It can also be referred to as dancer’s hip or as coxa saltans.

In many cases, SHS is not a cause for concern. Often painless, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else.

There are certain times, however, when getting treatment will help ease any pain and prevent more serious complications.

So why does the hip snap? The hip’s anatomy is a great place to start taking a look.

Understanding the Hip

As one of the largest joints in the body, the hip joint is an important weight-bearing structure. It allows you to walk, jump, run, and perform various lower body movements. When healthy, it is one of the most flexible joints in the body.

The top of your thigh bone fits into a cup-shaped socket in the pelvis. This ball-and-socket joint uses ligaments to keep everything in place. Above the ligaments, tendons attach muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and pelvis to the bones. A very slippery liquid, known as synovial fluid, protects the bones and helps the joints to flex.

These layers of protection make your hip one of the most durable, stable joints in the body. Unfortunately, even with all its protection, the hip may suffer injury.

muscles of the hip

What Causes the Hip to “Snap”?

When tendons or muscles slide over the bony knobs of the hip, snapping occurs. This can affect various areas of the hip. These areas include:

Outside of the Hip

Known as external snapping hip syndrome, this occurs when a tendon or muscle slides over the bony knob on top of the thigh bone. This bony mass, known as the greater trochanter, can either catch on the iliotibial band or on the gluteus maximus muscle.

This is typically caused by muscle tension in the iliotibial band or gluteus maximus. You may notice the snapping when climbing stairs, running, or carrying heavy loads like shopping bags. Some may feel a sudden, sharp pain outside the hip.

Inside the Hip

Referred to as internal snapping hip syndrome, this involves the sliding of tendons or muscles over bony structures at the front of the hip joint. The two common hip flexors involved are the iliopsoas tendon connecting to the iliopsoas muscle and the quadriceps muscle known as the rectus femoris.

You may notice internal snapping when getting up from a chair, running, or rotating the legs away from the body. Sometimes this condition causes sudden pain, deep inside the groin area.

Injury to Hip Cartilage

When the cartilage protecting the hip socket tears or gets injured, snapping may occur. This is usually due to a sudden trauma like falling or chronic conditions like hip arthritis. Damaged cartilage usually causes pain and the hip joint to lock up.

doctor and patient examining x-ray of hip

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of snapping hip syndrome can range from mild irritation to dehabiliting pain. Common symptoms include:

  • Popping or snapping in any area of the hip when rotating, lifting, lowering, or swinging the leg.
  • Leg weakness when making forward or sideways movements.
  • Swelling or tightness in the side, front, or back of the hip.
  • Problems walking, running, exercising, or getting up from a chair.
  • Feeling like the hip will detach from the socket.
  • Locking up of the hip when performing certain movements.

Risk Factors for Snapping Hip Syndrome

Just about anyone can develop this condition, but there are certain factors that make snapping hip syndrome more likely. These include:

  • Athletes and others who regularly recruit extreme range of motion in the hips, such as ballet dancers, those who practice martial arts, and football players.
  • Young athletes who are going through growth spurts.
  • Those with arthritis or other chronic conditions that affect the hips.
  • People who are recovering from knee or hip surgeries.
  • Those with jobs that involve frequent bending at the hips.
  • People who dramatically increase their activity level or exercise routines.

dancer with snapping hip syndrome or ballet hip

Treatment for Snapping Hip Syndrome

For many, a snapping hip isn’t much cause for concern. Others may experience pain because of this condition, making treatment a necessity. Pain occurs when the snapping tendon or muscle becomes inflamed or injured, usually over time. In addition, the snapping can irritate a fluid-filled structure that helps to lubricate the bone and soft tissue. The inflammation of this structure, known as hip bursitis, can be quite painful.

In many cases, conservative treatments can help to reduce pain. These include:

  • Resting the Area: Athletes and others with this condition can take a short break from the motions that cause the irritation. This helps the muscles, tendons, and other structures to recover.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medicine: Over-the-counter aspirin or ibuprofen can relieve pain and reduce swelling in the affected areas.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can stretch and massage the area, helping to relieve any muscle tension. In addition, your therapist can suggest modifications to your everyday activities that allow your hip to rest.
  • Corticosteroid Injection: If the pain prevents you from engaging in your daily activities, a physician may prescribe a steroid injection to reduce the inflammation.

These treatments have an excellent chance of improving your condition. If you’re still not experiencing relief, however, then other options are still available.

woman receiving chiropractic treatment for snapping hip syndrome

Surgical Treatments for Snapping Hip Syndrome

In rare cases, a surgical treatment may be the best answer to resolve your pain. After a full medical evaluation and diagnostic imaging, an orthopedic surgeon may recommend one of the following procedures:

  • Iliopsoas Tendon (IT) Release: Typically used for internal snapping hip syndrome, a surgeon makes strategic cuts in the IT band to reduce tension and lengthen it. This should decrease (or even stop) the snapping.
  • Hip Arthroscopy: The surgeon inserts a tiny camera into your hip joint to find and remove loose pieces of cartilage that have become caught in the ball-and-socket joint.
  • Acetabular Labrum Repair: If imaging tests determine a tear in the ring of cartilage on the outside rim of the hip joint (labrum), then your surgeon can use a tiny camera and instruments to repair the damage.

In many cases, these minimally invasive procedures will eliminate the snapping and pain caused by this condition.

When Surgery is Necessary…

Although snapping hip syndrome rarely requires surgery, consulting with a qualified orthopedic surgeon can provide solutions to help ease your pain and get your life back on track.

Our experts at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery believe that you can return to a pain-free life. Our team is ready to meet with you, review any previous MRIs or imaging results, and determine the best course of action for your pain. From nagging pain to sports medicine issues, we will help you pinpoint the source of your hip pain and find the best solutions.

Calling the Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery clinic may be the next step in getting your life back. Our surgeons are leaders in their fields, with decades of experience in helping others. Don’t hesitate to call or schedule an appointment today!