The hip joint is a ball and socket joint that connects the ball-shaped top of the leg bone (femur) to the hip socket. It is a strong, stable joint that can endure a lot of stress. Of course, there are limits. Hip pain is common and has many causes. Common causes of hip pain include:
- Ligament sprains, muscle strains, or nerve impingements
- Stress fracture—a result of overuse or repeated stress occurs with activity
- Osteoarthritis—degeneration of the cushioning of the surface of the hip socket
- Rheumatoid arthritis—swelling and inflammation of the hip joint
- Injury—caused either by a bone tumor, or by a break or fracture of the hip joint
Fortunately, there are actions you can take that will allow you to keep going. Here are some home treatments that may help relieve your pain.
Rest and Support
Rest your hip when you need to and avoid any activity that causes pain. Complete rest is not necessary as movement helps keep the joint strong and flexible. If you workout on a regular basis, try different exercises until your hip feels better. Consider using a cane or crutches to help keep weight off your hip while it heals.
Recovery may take up to 2 weeks or more.
Ice and Heat
Ice and heat are used frequently, but it can be confusing to know which is better. Ice is used for acute injuries during first few days to reduce swelling and pain. Heat can be used for more chronic pain. Heat increases blood flow to affected area while relaxing and loosening the tissues. Heat can also be used before you exercise, especially if you have an overuse injury.
In general, apply ice and heat for up to 20 minutes at a time. Be sure to use a towel between the ice or heat pack to avoid irritation to your skin.
In most cases, you can take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen help relieve both swelling and pain. Be aware that long-term NSAID use is associated with many adverse effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and drug interaction. Talk to your doctor before taking pain relievers to avoid these problems.
Physical therapy can help reduce pain with specific exercises that can help with stretching, strength training, and flexibility. Ice, heat, and ultrasound can help eliminate pain and restore movement. You may need to do some exercises at home in between visits.
Return to normal activity may take time and should go slowly. Do not return to activity or sports until your doctor says it is okay to do so.
Bad health habits add stress to your joints. If you are overweight and do not exercise, it may contribute to or worsen your pain. Any movement is better than no movement. Start with short walks a few times a day. Your goal should be to get at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Losing as little as 10 pounds reduce pain and will help you feel better. If you need help with how to lose weight, consider talking to a dietitian who can help you with meal planning.
If your pain was activity related, here are some steps you can take to prevent recurrence:
- Take the time to properly warm up. This includes light walking, jogging, or biking to slowly increase your activity level.
- Use proper equipment and technique when playing sports.
- Wear proper athletic shoes for your activity. Go to a specialty store and get fitted for the right sneakers. Replace them as recommended.
- Do regular strength training for muscle and bone development, and flexibility.
When to Call Your Doctor
If home treatments do not work and you still have pain after a couple of weeks, it may be time to call your doctor for an appointment. Hip pain can be a sign of more serious problems. Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your hip pain history. Call your doctor for:
- Worsening or intense pain or swelling
- Pain that does not go away with the over-the-counter medications you take
- Pain that restricts your daily activities
- Pain that inhibits you from walking or moving around
- Numbness or tingling in your legs
- Any fever along with the pain
You may be referred for blood tests, x-rays, or other imaging tests. Treatment for your hip pain will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment may include:
- Prescription medications
Some aches and pains are normal, while others need more attention. Do not neglect your hip pain. If you have any questions about hip pain or treatments, call your doctor.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Canadian Arthritis Network
Hip bursitis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00409. Updated March 2014. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Hip strains. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00361. Updated December 2014. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Petchprapa CN, Bencardino JT. Tendon injuries of the hip. Magn Reson Imaging Clin N Am. 2013;21(1):75-96.
Tammareddi K, Morelli V, Reyes M Jr. The athlete's hip and groin. Prim Care. 2013;40(2):313-333.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/15/2015