Your hips are large, strong joints that are responsible for moving your upper legs in many directions and bearing the full weight of your body.
They are very durable, but they aren’t indestructible. Constant wear and tear can damage the cartilage that surrounds your hip joints, and it’s possible to injure the surrounding soft tissues.
If either of these events happen, you're likely to develop pain in and around your hips.
But wear and tear (otherwise known as osteoarthritis) and soft tissue injuries aren't the only causes of hip pain.
When to see a doctor about your hip pain
Hip pain normally gets better on its own, but you should see a doctor if you have pain:
- that lasts for more than 1 week
- and a fever or a rash
- in both hips and/or in other joints as well
Common causes of hip pain
Many things can cause hip pain, including direct injury, like a fall, or medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Here are 5 of the most common causes and how to manage them.
Tendons are bands of connective tissue that connect your muscles to your bones. If these become inflamed or swollen, it can cause pain and discomfort. This is called tendonitis.
The condition is normally caused by a sporting injury, sudden, sharp movements or repetitive exercise like running or jumping.
But it can also be linked to poor posture, infection or a metabolic condition like diabetes.
If you have hip tendonitis, you’re likely to feel some pain and swelling around your hip joint. The pain is normally worse when you’re moving around, and it may get better when you rest.
You can normally treat tendonitis at home. Try to:
- rest as much as you can
- put an ice pack on the affected area
- use a compress to support your injury.
You can also help to prevent swelling by avoiding sources of heat (hot showers or heat packs), alcohol and massages.
If your symptoms don’t clear up after a few weeks, see a doctor.
Bursa are small, fluid-filled sacs that surround and cushion your joints. If the bursa surrounding your hip joint become swollen or inflamed, it can cause pain in and around your hip.
Bursitis can also make your hip joint feel swollen and warm to the touch. The pain this causes is generally sharp to begin with, but it can become dull and achy after a few days.
If you have bursitis in your hip, try to rest as much as you can. An ice pack may help to reduce pain and swelling. It can help to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller (NSAID), like ibuprofen, to help with your pain. In some countries this requires a prescription.
Most cases will clear up over time, but if you’re in pain for more than a week you should speak with a doctor.
A fractured hip
If you fall or injure the side of your hip, you may fracture the top of your thigh bone (hip fracture).
Hip fractures are more likely to occur if you have a condition like osteoporosis, which weakens your bones, but they can happen to anyone.
They normally cause sudden pain in your hip, but other symptoms include:
- struggling to lift, move or rotate your leg
- bruising around the hip
- not being able to stand or put weight on your leg
You should go straight to your nearest emergency room if you think that you’ve fractured your hip.
Osteoarthritis is sometimes called ‘wear and tear arthritis’. It's a common form of arthritis that develops when the protective cartilage on the end of your bones starts to break down and wear away. This leads to inflammation, pain and stiffness in your joints.
It’s more common in people over 45, but you can develop osteoarthritis at any age.
It’s not always clear what causes the condition, but common triggers include:
- sporting injuries
- medical conditions that damage your joints (like a joint infection)
- obesity, which puts extra strain on weight-bearing joints like your knees and hips.
If you have osteoarthritis in your hip, you may notice some mild inflammation and swelling in the surrounding tissue. You may also notice that it’s difficult to move your hip, or that your joint feels stiff and painful.
Some people also feel pain around the groin, outside the hip or inside the thigh.
Pain is normally limited to 1 side of your body, or 1 joint.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and therapy. You may also be able to manage mild symptoms at home by getting plenty of exercise, losing weight, and taking painkillers.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune condition that causes inflammation in your joints. It develops when your immune system attacks the soft tissue lining your joints (the synovium).
Experts are not sure what triggers rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is most likely to develop between the ages of 30 and 50 but it can start at any age.
Rheumatoid arthritis normally affects smaller joints, like the ones in your feet, hands and wrists. But it can also affect your hips.
Symptoms include joint pain, tenderness and swelling. You may also feel stiff when you get up in the morning.
Rheumatoid arthritis normally affects more than 1 joint at a time. It also tends to affect the same joints on both sides of the body.
It can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. Treatment is most effective when the condition is caught early, so, if you think you might have rheumatoid arthritis, you should talk to your doctor straight away.
What else could my hip pain be?
Less common causes of hip pain include:
- an infection in the bone or joint
- reduced blood flow to the hip bone
- a tear in the ring of cartilage that surrounds the socket of your hip joint (sometimes called a labral tear)
Hip pain can also be referred from other parts of your back or spinal cord.
If you have pain in your hip and you’re not sure what’s causing it, you should see a doctor.