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Hip pain: Causes and treatment

The hip is the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body. Hip pain can be caused by wear-and-tear over the years, or by a fall or injury.

Hip pain may be due to cartilage cushioning the joints becoming damaged or worn – or overuse of muscles and tendons in the hip.

Hip

Causes of hip pain

Health conditions that are common causes of hip pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis – the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, causing pain and reduced range of movement.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune condition where the body's defences mistakenly attack the joints – causing pain, stiffness and a loss of range of movement.
  • Hip fractures – broken bones in the hip can easily occur after a fall in older people. Bones can become weaker with age and with conditions like osteoporosis.
  • Bursitis – sacs of fluid in the joint called bursas can become inflamed or irritated.
  • Tendonitis - Tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of the thick bands of tissue that attach the bones to the muscles.
  • Muscle strain, tendon strain – these injuries can be from overuse or injuries, such as sports injuries.
  • Bone cancers - Tumours may start in a hip bone or spread there from somewhere else in the body.
  • Osteonecrosis – This condition means blood flow is lost to the hip bone causing loss of bone tissue. This may develop after a hip fracture, hip dislocation, or long-term steroid medication use.

Symptoms of hip pain

Hip pain may be felt in and around the:

  • Hip joints
  • Thighs
  • Groin area
  • Buttocks.

Sometimes pain that seems to be affecting the hip can actually be due to a problem elsewhere. In this situation pain in the hip is called referred pain.

Sometimes hip pain is constant, in other cases activities may make it worse.

Hip pain can mean you are less able to move the hip joint as much as before – called a reduced range of movement – and this may result in walking with a limp.

Hip pain treatment

Painkillers may help with hip pain – such as paracetamol or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, including ibuprofen.

It may also be possible to get some relief from hip pain with an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth held against the area.

Seek medical advice about hip pain – once the cause is diagnosed better targeted treatments can be recommended.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis hip pain may include prescription anti-inflammatory medications and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

If sports activities make the hip pain worse, it may help to swap to low-impact exercises, like swimming.

A doctor may recommend a referral to a physiotherapist for an exercise programme to help with range of movement.

If osteoarthritis is causing severe hip pain and other approaches are not helping, a hip replacement operation or hip surgery may be recommended.

If a broken bone in the hip is causing the pain, this will be confirmed with an X-ray so appropriate treatment can be provided.

Seek medical attention if hip pain doesn’t ease, including at night or when resting, or if there is swelling, redness or warmth around the joints.

Seek urgent medical help if:

  • The pain began after a fall or injury
  • Pain began suddenly
  • The joint is bleeding or looks deformed
  • There was a popping noise before the pain began
  • Pain is severe
  • Weight cannot be put on the joints.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 20, 2016

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