Snapping Hip Syndrome–What is it and why does it happen?

What is snapping hip syndrome?

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. (OrthoInfo, 2019)

Illustration shows the bones of the hip joint, as well as the ligaments, tendons, and bursae that surround and protect the joint.
Reproduced with permission from The Body Almanac. © American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2003.

There are two types of snapping hip: internal and external.

Internal snapping hip refers to the motion of the iliopsoas tendon (a hip flexor muscle) over the edge of the acetabulum or socket. This can feel as though the hip is popping, or be characterized as anterior (front side) hip pain or groin pain. This is often noted if the hip is brought from an abducted and externally rotated position (like a “frog leg” position with the hip flexed and knee out to the side) to an adducted and internally rotated position (a straight leg position with the toes pointed to the other foot).  (Stanford Health Care, 2019)

External snapping hip refers to the motion of the iliotibial band (IT band) over the lateral aspect (side) of the greater trochanter of the femur (the normal bone bump that can be felt on the side of the hip). This normally glides smoothly with normal hip motion, but for a variety of reasons this can become abnormal, causing a sensation of snapping on the side of the hip along with pain. This is often reported by patients as a feeling that the hip is dislocating with fairly simple motions such as riding a bicycle or running. Pain from this is felt more on the lateral side (side portion of the hip) rather than in the groin. (Stanford Health Care, 2019)

What causes snapping hip syndrome?

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.

How is it treated?

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:

  • Reduce your activity levels and apply ice to the affected area.
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce discomfort.
  • Modify your sport or exercise activities to avoid repetitive movement of the hip. For example, reduce time spent on a bicycle, and swim using your arms only. (OrthoInfo, 2019)

Both forms of snapping hip may benefit from physical therapy, however, often the internal form is treated with arthroscopic surgery, whereas most patients with external snapping hip will improve with physical therapy and possibly a local injection of anti-inflammatory medications.

Talk with your doctor to learn the best methods to treat your pain. Make an appointment with our physical therapist or orthopedic surgeons by calling 954-979-3255.

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