Adam C. Young, MD
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Snapping Hips Isn’t The Name Of A Rock Band

Snapping hip syndrome is usually painless and harmless but sometimes quite annoying. It usually manifests when you walk, get up from a chair, or swing your leg around. If you are experiencing snapping hip syndrome, you could either feel or hear a “snapping” sensation in your hip. Athletes in their teens and twenties as well as dancers frequently experience snapping hip.

Why The Snapping Happens

The movement of a muscle or tendons over a bony structure is what causes the snapping sensation. In the hip, the most common location is at the outside of the hip. This is where the iliotibial band, a group of connective tissue, goes over the portion of the thighbone known as the greater trochanter. When straight, the iliotibial band sits in back of the trochanter. When the hip is bent, the iliotibial band moves over the trochanter all the way to the front. Like a stretched rubber band, the iliotibial band is always tight. Since the trochanter sticks out slightly, the motion of the band over it creates the snap you may feel or hear. Over time, this could lead to hip bursitis, which is a thickening and inflammation of a sac filled with fluid that allows the muscle to move smoothly over bone.

There is one more tendon that may cause snapping hip syndrome called the rectus femoris tendon. It runs from the inside of the thighbone up through the pelvis. As you bend your hip, the tendon shifts over the top of the thighbone. When you straighten out your hip, the tendon returns to its usual position to the side of the thighbone. This repetitive motion across the head of the thighbone may cause the snapping sensation and sound.

Lastly, torn cartilage or some form of debris in the hip joint may also cause a clicking or snapping sensation. Snapping hip caused by this can actually cause mild to disabling pain. This type of snapping hip is actually the result of a loose piece of cartilage in the hip that locks-up or catches. When the hip breaks free from being locked up it can cause the snapping feeling and sound, as well as create a sometimes-intense amount of pain.

Sometimes A Doctor Should Hear You Snap

Unless they experience pain, many people don’t bother seeing a doctor for snapping hip syndrome. Your orthopedic physician will first determine exactly what is causing the hip to snap. You may be asked where the pain is, what types of activities cause the snapping, if you can cause the hip to snap whenever you want, and if you have ever experienced any injuries to the hip. You could also be asked to move your hip in various patterns in an attempt reproduce the snapping. Your orthopedic specialist may even be able to feel the tendon move as you extend or bend your hip. An X-ray may be requested along with other tests so that the orthopedic doctor can rule out any problems with the bones or joint.

Treating A Snapping Hip

If your snapping hip is causing you discomfort or pain you should make an appointment with an orthopedic physician, like the ones at IBJI. Your orthopedic physician may prescribe some simple things like reducing your activity levels, applying ice, using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and modifying your activities to avoid repetitive motion of the hip. If you continue to experience discomfort after trying these less intense treatments, your physician may prescribe a more aggressive treatment regimen. This regimen can include exercises prescribed by a physical therapist and corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation. In very rare circumstance a snapping hip may not respond to non-invasive treatments. In these infrequent cases surgery may be suggested.

*The blog is for general information and educational purposes only regarding musculoskeletal conditions. The information provided does not constitute the practice of medicine or other healthcare professional services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor-patient relationship is formed. Readers with musculoskeletal conditions should seek the advice of their healthcare professionals without delay for any condition they have. The use of the information is at the reader’s own risk. The content is not intended to replace diagnosis, treatment or medical advice from your treating healthcare professional.