Top 5 causes of hip pain and how to treat them

Elder women

When you suffer from chronic hip pain, it can feel like your entire life is on hold. Fortunately, there are treatment options to help you find relief. The first step? Finding the source of your hip pain.

Symptoms of hip pain

In a healthy hip, the joint works like a ball-and-socket to help you move with fluidity. Around this ball-and-socket, a layer of cartilage provides a cushion so that your bones don’t rub against each other. The hip is designed to withstand some wear and tear. But no part of the body is indestructible. Over time, many people experience cartilage damage or injury that leads to hip pain.

Depending on what has caused your hip pain, you might feel discomfort surrounding the hip, such as at the thigh, groin or buttocks. Your pain might worsen with activity or impede your range of motion. For some people, persistent pain may cause you to walk with a limp.

Causes and treatment options

Several conditions can lead to hip pain. Consider these five common culprits.

  1. Osteoarthritis

    Osteoarthritis is among the most common causes of hip pain. For some people, age-related wear and tear can lead to the breakdown of cartilage. In others, osteoarthritis might be linked to an injury or previous trauma. Whatever the cause, osteoarthritis leads to pain, stiffness and limited mobility as the deteriorating cartilage causes bones to rub against each other.

    Non-surgical treatments might include corticosteroid medication, dietary supplements or over-the-counter pain relievers. Many patients also find relief from working with a physical therapist and exercising regularly. In some cases, patients may consider using a cane or walker to decrease pain while walking.

  2. Trochanteric bursitis

    At your hip joint, a fluid-filled sac called bursa helps you to move without friction or pain. Bursa acts as cushioning between your bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. When the bursa becomes inflamed, you might experience a condition called trochanteric bursitis. Inflamed bursa can lead to soft tissue damage at the hip joint.

    In some cases, simply avoiding activities that aggravate the condition can bring pain relief. A doctor may also recommend hot and cold therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or physical therapy. If these treatments don’t work, a doctor may try aspiration to drain the hip bursa or a corticosteroid injection.

  3. Tendonitis

    At your hip joint is a network of tendons that connect your hip muscle to bone. If these tendons become inflamed or irritated, it can result in intense pain. You might experience tendonitis as the result of an injury, overuse or because of age-related loss of elasticity. Hip tendonitis is often related to the iliotibial (IT) band, which wraps around the outside of the hip and is used during walking or running.

    Most non-invasive treatment options focus on reducing pain and inflammation. First, stop whatever activity is causing the tendonitis. Focus on rest, ice, compression and elevation. Try taking over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin.

  4. Osteonecrosis

    While osteonecrosis can occur in anyone, the condition is most common between the ages of 30-50. This bone disease occurs when your bones don’t receive adequate blood supply. The result is that bone tissue dies, and the bone itself deteriorates. While osteonecrosis is not as common as other conditions like osteoarthritis, the hip joint is one of the most common places for the condition to occur.

    The first line of treatment for osteonecrosis involves medication, such as NSAIDs, blood thinners or cholesterol-lowering medications. A doctor may also prescribe range of motion (ROM) exercises to help strengthen your hip joint. Often, patients with osteonecrosis can avoid surgery by using walking devices like canes to help take the weight off the damaged joint.

  5. Snapping hip syndrome

    Snapping hip syndrome is not one specific condition but rather a cluster of hip problems. The syndrome refers to three hip problems:

    1. When the IT band snaps along the outside of the thigh
    2. When the hip flexor snaps over the front of the joint
    3. When cartilage tears cause a snapping sensation

    Often, treatment simply involves avoiding activities that cause the snapping sensations. Other non-surgical options may include NSAIDs to reduce swelling and inflammation, physical therapy or a corticosteroid injection.

When to see a doctor

As a bottom line, if hip pain is interfering with your everyday life, it’s time to seek help. Some other signs that you should see a doctor include:

  • Pain resulting from an injury
  • An injury that involves your hip popping
  • Pain that has come on suddenly
  • Hip pain that lingers even after resting
  • Swelling, redness or warmth at the hip
  • Inability to put weight on the joint
  • Pain that is intense and severe

Learn more

If you have any of the symptoms above and want to speak with a physician to help you identify your pain, call our nurse navigator Kathryn Harada today. Kathryn brings a passion for helping patients. To speak with Kathryn about your personalized care plan, call (805) 955-6233 or fill out the form below.


Kathryn Harada, BSN, BA, RN, PHN, CNOR

To speak with our nurse navigator, fill out the form below:

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