Snapping hip is a condition in which you feel a snapping sensation or hear a popping sound in your hip when you walk, get up from a chair, or swing your leg around.
The snapping sensation occurs when a muscle or tendon (the strong tissue that connects muscle to bone) moves over a bony protrusion in your hip.
Although snapping hip is usually painless and harmless, the sensation can be annoying. In some cases, snapping hip leads to bursitis, a painful swelling of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the hip joint.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint formed where the rounded end of the thighbone (femur) fits into a cup-shaped socket (acetabulum) in the pelvis. The acetabulum is ringed by strong fibrocartilage called the labrum that creates a tight seal and helps to provide stability to the joint.
Encasing the hip are ligaments that surround the joint and hold it together. Over the ligaments are tendons that attach muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and pelvis to the bones. These muscles control hip movement.
Fluid-filled sacs called bursae are located in strategic spots around the hip to provide cushioning and help the muscles move smoothly over the bone.
Snapping hip can occur in different areas of the hip where tendons and muscles slide over knobs in the hip bones.
When the hip is straight, the iliotibial band is behind the trochanter. When the hip bends, the band moves over the trochanter so that it is in front of it. The iliotibial 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, snapping hip may 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.
In addition to the rectus femoris tendon at the front of the hip, the iliopsoas tendon can catch on bony prominences at the front of the pelvis bone.
Snapping hip is most often the result of tightness in the muscles and tendons surrounding the hip. People who are involved in sports and activities that require repeated bending at the hip are more likely to experience snapping hip. Dancers are especially vulnerable.
Young athletes are also more likely to have snapping hip. This is because tightness in the muscle structures of the hip is common during adolescent growth spurts.
Most people do not see a doctor for snapping hip unless they experience some pain. If the snapping hip bothers you — but not to the point of seeing a doctor — try the following conservative home treatment options:
If you are still experiencing discomfort after trying these conservative methods, consult your doctor for professional treatment.
Your doctor will first determine the exact cause of the snapping by discussing you medical history and symptoms, and conducting a physical examination. He or she may ask you where it hurts, what kinds of activities bring on the snapping, whether you can demonstrate the snapping, or whether you have experienced any injury to the hip area.
You may also be asked to stand and move your hip in various directions to reproduce the snapping. Your doctor may even be able to feel the tendon moving as you bend or extend your hip.
X-rays create clear pictures of dense structures, like bone. Although x-rays of people with snapping hip do not typically show anything abnormal, your doctor may order x-rays along with other tests to rule out any problems with the bones or joint.
Initial treatment typically involves a period of rest and modification of activities. Depending upon the cause of your snapping hip, your doctor may also recommend other conservative treatment options.
Your doctor may prescribe exercises to stretch and strengthen the musculature surrounding the hip. Guidance from a physical therapist may also be recommended.
If you have hip bursitis, your doctor may recommend an injection of a corticosteroid into the bursa to reduce painful inflammation.
In the rare instances that snapping hip does not respond to conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of the snapping hip.
Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, the surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery.
Hip arthroscopy is most often used to remove or repair fragments of a torn labrum.
Your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with you the best procedure to meet your individual health needs.