Hip pain

Hip pain

Hip pain can be caused by injury or disease. Sudden pain in your hip is more likely to be the result of an injury to your soft tissues or a bone fracture. Chronic (long-term) or gradual pain is often caused by wear and tear to your joint over time (osteoarthritis).

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

Summary

Depending on how severe your hip joint pain is, it can affect your everyday life by preventing you from:

  • Doing your job, especially if you're a manual labourer
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Performing simple activities, such as walking or climbing the stairs
  • Taking part in sports

Hip and joint pain can be managed using painkillers or joint injections but often it’s better to treat the underlying cause of the pain.

Causes of hip pain

Osteoarthritis

One of the most common causes of hip pain is osteoarthritis, especially in older people. This is the gradual breakdown of the cartilage protecting the bones in your joints, causing pain and stiffness. This wear and tear increases with age and weight. The damage caused eventually becomes too much for your body’s normal repair process to keep up with. 

You are more likely to develop osteoarthritis if you are a woman and if you have experienced joint infections, breaks or other damage to your bones. Osteoarthritis can also run in families. 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hips include: 

  • Bony growths (osteophytes) at the edges of your hip joint
  • Crepitus
  • Damage to cartilage around your hip joint
  • Increased pain during movement, at night and/or in cold or damp weather
  • Mild inflammation around your hip joint

Pain in your hip (and other joints) can also be caused by rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis — both are types of inflammatory arthritis that can come and go, and make you feel generally unwell.

Hip fracture

Sudden and severe pain from your hip joint after a knock or fall is likely due to a fracture (break). This is one of the most common fractures in older people after a fall. Treatment usually involves surgery.  

If you have osteoporosis, you’re more likely to suffer fractures because you have weakened bones. 

If you have pain caused by a fall or accident, such as a car crash, you should go straight to A&E.

Other injuries

Pain on the outside of your hip, upper thigh or buttocks is usually caused by problems with the soft tissues surrounding your hip joint. Many hip problems of this type are sports injuries. They include:

  • An inguinal hernia, where part of your intestine pushes through your abdominal muscles
  • Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome (GTPS), where the tissue around the hip joint is injured — this is common in runners and footballers
  • Inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that cushions the bones in your joints
  • Strain or tear to the hamstrings or a ligament, which is the tough tissue connecting the bones in your joints and keeping them stable
  • Tear to the cartilage tissue in your hip
  • Tendonitis — the inflammation of your tendons 

In some cases, hip pain comes from problems in the lower back or other areas near the hip joint — this is called referred pain.

Other causes

Hip joint pain can be caused by abnormally shaped hip bones. This can cause femoroacetabular impingement, where the hip bones rub together, and hip dysplasia, where the hip joint dislocates more easily. Dislocation can also be caused by an injury. A tear in the cartilage around the hip joint (hip labral tear) can also cause pain.

Other causes of hip joint pain include:

  • Cancer, such as bone cancer, leukaemia, and cancer from elsewhere that has spread to the bones
  • Compression or irritation of nerves in the hip area, such as meralgia paresthetica and sciatica
  • Infection of the hip bones or hip joints, such as septic arthritis and osteomyelitis
  • Inflammation — this can be caused by juvenile idiopathic arthritis, synovitis and sacroiliitis
  • Reduced blood flow to the hip joint, such as osteonecrosis and avascular necrosis 

You should see your GP if you're worried about symptoms, especially if they're severe or affecting your everyday life, or if you have a fever and hip pain.

Hip problems in children

Hip problems can affect children at different ages. 

Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) affects newborns. It occurs when the hip joint is unstable and dislocates. 

Children usually aged 4–13 can develop Perthes' disease after a fall. It is more common in boys than girls and affects the blood supply to the hip joint. The first symptom of the disease is usually a limp. 

Older children, usually aged 11–13, can develop slipped capital femoral epiphysis. Common symptoms include knee or hip pain and limping. 

Children of all ages can also be affected by septic arthritis of the hip joint, which is caused by an infection. 

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms.

You can book an appointment with a Spire GP today.

Getting a diagnosis for hip pain

Hip pain usually gets better without treatment. You can manage your pain by taking over-the-counter painkillers and resting your hip. However, you should go to a hospital as soon as possible if:

  • You cannot move your hip or bear any weight on it
  • Your hip pain was caused by a serious accident or fall
  • Your leg is bleeding, severely bruised or deformed

You should see your GP if: 

  • You have a fever or rash in addition to your hip pain
  • You have pain in both hips and other joints
  • You have sickle cell anaemia and your hip pain occurred suddenly
  • Your hip is still painful after one week of resting it

Your GP will discuss how you’re feeling and give you a physical examination to look for signs of what may be causing your hip pain. They will ask when and how the pain started, where the pain is, whether you can walk and bear weight on your hip and whether anything makes the pain better or worse. They will also ask if you have any other medical problems or are taking any medicines. 

If your GP can’t find an exact cause, they may request some tests and/or scans, including:

  • A bone scan to check for irregularities in your bones such as cancer, infection or impaired blood supply
  • An X-ray of your hip to look for a fracture or bone deformity
  • Blood tests to check for any diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • MRI and/or CT scans to see your hip joint and surrounding tissues in more detail

Treatments for hip pain

Your hip pain treatment will depend on the type of hip problem your doctor has diagnosed. You may be able to manage it by losing weight if you’re overweight — this takes pressure off your hips. Other things you can do to manage hip pain at home include:

  • Avoiding standing for too long
  • Resting and avoiding activity that makes your pain worse, such as running downhill
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Using an ice pack
  • Wearing flat shoes

Once your doctor has made a diagnosis, they may recommend the following treatments:

If your hip pain is found to be related to exercise or other types of physical activity, your doctor may recommend: 

  • Cutting down on exercise
  • Switching from running on hard surfaces, such as concrete, to soft surfaces, such as grass
  • Trying alternative low-impact exercises, such as cycling and swimming
  • Warming up and stretching before and after exercise
  • Wearing well-fitted running shoes to support your feet properly

Frequently asked questions

What are the first signs of hip problems?

Early signs of hip problems include: 

  • Limping
  • Pain in your hip or groin area
  • Stiffness in your hips
  • Tenderness or swelling around your hip 

If you have any of these symptoms and are worried, see your GP.

How do I know if my hip pain is serious?

Hip pain usually gets better without treatment but in serious cases, treatment is required. Whether you need to see your GP or go straight to the hospital will depend on your symptoms. See your GP if: 

  • You have a fever or rash in addition to your hip pain
  • You have pain in both hips and other joints
  • You have sickle cell anaemia and your hip pain occurred suddenly
  • Your hip is still painful after one week of resting it

Go to a hospital if: 

  • You cannot move your hip or bear any weight on it
  • Your hip pain was caused by a serious accident or fall
  • Your leg is bleeding, severely bruised or deformed

What does it feel like to have arthritis in your hip?

When arthritis affects your hip, it can feel stiff with a dull, achy pain that can extend to your groin, outer thigh, knee and buttocks. In general, rheumatoid arthritis feels worse in the morning, with mild to moderate exercise easing the pain, while osteoarthritis feels worse later in the day, with activity increasing the pain. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in your hip can make walking feel uncomfortable.

When should I go to the doctor for hip pain?

You should see your GP if your hip pain is accompanied by a fever, rash or pain in other joints. If after a week of resting your hip, the pain persists, or you have sickle cell anaemia and your hip pain occurred suddenly, you should also see your GP.

You may need to see a doctor urgently if you can't bear any weight on or move your hip, if your leg is bleeding, deformed or severely bruised, or if your hip pain is due to a serious accident or fall. In these cases, you should go straight to your nearest A&E.

Does walking help hip pain?

Depending on the cause of your hip pain, walking can make it better or worse. It is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis for the cause of your hip pain. Appropriate treatment can then be recommended, which may include exercise, such as walking. 

What helps hip pain while sleeping?

Finding a comfortable sleeping position can reduce hip pain at night. You can try sleeping on your back or if you sleep on your side, fold a blanket or pillow into a wedge shape and place it under your hip for support and cushioning. You can also try placing a pillow between your knees to help align your hips. Over-the-counter painkillers can help, as well as a warm bath before bedtime. Stretching and low-impact exercise may also help but you should seek medical advice before attempting any to avoid causing more pain. 

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