What is Snapping Hip Syndrome?
Snapping hip occurs when a muscle, tendon, or ligament rolls over a bony prominence in the hip. Snapping hip can occur in different areas of the hip:
- Front. Snapping at the front of the hip can involve the hip flexor muscle rolling over the front of the hip bone, or the hip ligaments rolling over the thigh bone or tissues of the hip joint.
- Side. This condition involves the ITB (iliotibial band) rolling over the outer thigh bone or the big muscle on the back of the hip (gluteus maximus) sliding over the outer thigh bone.
- Back. This condition involves one of the hamstring muscles rolling over the bottom of the hip bone.
Snapping hip can occur when the hip muscles are excessively used and become fatigued, tight, and/or swollen.
Athletic activities like track and field, soccer, horseback riding, cycling, gymnastics, and dance can trigger the condition. It can also occur during everyday activities that require repeated forceful movement of the legs.
How Does it Feel?
Snapping hip causes a snapping sensation and sound that can be felt in the front, the side, or the back of the hip. Often, the snapping can be pain-free. If it causes pain, the pain usually ceases when the leg movement causing the snapping is stopped. In athletes and dancers, the snapping can be accompanied by weakness and may diminish performance.
The snapping is most commonly felt when kicking the leg forward or to the side, when bringing the leg behind the body, when rising from a chair, or when rotating the body or the leg.
Often, walking and running in a straight line are snap-free and pain-free, although in some people these activities are limited by the pain of the structure that is snapping.
Signs and Symptoms
With snapping hip, you may have:
- Snapping or popping in the front, side, or back of hip when lifting, lowering, or swinging the leg
- Weakness in the leg when trying to lift it forward or sideways
- Tightness in the front or back of the hip
- Swelling in the front or side of the hip
- Difficulty performing daily activities such as rising from a chair and walking
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you see your physical therapist first, the therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your therapist will ask you:
- How you injured your hip and if you heard a pop when you suffered the injury
- If you feel snapping, popping, or pain
- Where you feel the snapping or pain
- If you experienced a direct hit to the leg
- If you saw swelling in the first 2 to 3 hours following the injury
- If you experience pain when lifting your leg forward or backward, walking, changing directions while walking or running, or when lifting the knee
- If you participate in any repetitive, forceful, or plyometric (quick explosive jumping) sport activities.
Your physical therapist also will perform special tests to help determine whether you have a snapping hip, such as:
- Asking you to lift your leg quickly
- Asking you to push against the physical therapist’s hand when he or she tries to push your leg outward, backward, and forward (muscle strength test)
- Gently feeling the muscle to determine the specific location of the injury (palpation)
Your therapist may use additional tests to assess possible damage to other parts of your body, such as your hip joint or lower back.
To provide a definitive diagnosis, your therapist may collaborate with a physician or other health care provider. The physician may order further tests—such as an x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—to confirm the diagnosis and also to rule out other potential damage. However, these tests are not commonly needed for snapping hip syndrome.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Your physical therapist will design a specific treatment program to speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments you should perform at home. This program will help you return to your normal life and activities and reach your recovery goals.
The First 24-48 Hours
Your physical therapist may advise you to:
- Rest the injured hip by avoiding walking or any activity that causes pain. In rare cases, crutches may be recommended to reduce further strain on the muscles when walking.
- Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
- Consult with another health care provider for further services such as medication or diagnostic tests.
Your physical therapist can use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain, including ice, heat, ultrasound, electricity, taping, exercises, and special hands-on techniques that move muscles and joints (manual therapy).
Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in the leg and hip. These might start with movements of the leg and hip joint that the therapist gently performs, and progress to active exercises and stretches. Treatment for snapping hip often involves manual therapy techniques called trigger point release and soft tissue mobilization, as well as specific stretches to muscles that might be abnormally tight.
Certain exercises will benefit your injury at each stage of recovery, and your physical therapist will choose and teach you the appropriate exercises that will restore your strength, power, and agility. These may be performed using free weights, stretchy bands, weight-lifting equipment, and cardio exercise machines such as treadmills and stationary bicycles. For snapping hip syndrome, muscles of the hip and core are often targeted by the strength exercises.
Speed Recovery Time
Your physical therapist is trained and experienced in choosing the treatments and exercises to help you heal, get back to your normal life, and reach your goals faster than you might be able to on your own.
Return to Activities
Your physical therapist will collaborate with you to decide on your recovery goals, including return to work and sport, as well as design your plan of care to help you reach those goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. Your physical therapist will use hands-on therapy and teach you exercises and work retraining activities. Athletes will be taught sport-specific techniques and drills to help achieve sport-specific goals.
Prevent Future Re-injury
Your physical therapist can recommend a home exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles around your hip, upper leg, and core (abdomen) to help prevent future injury. These may include strength and flexibility exercises for the hip, thigh, and core muscles.
If Surgery Is Necessary
Surgery is rarely necessary in the case of snapping hip syndrome. If it is required, your physical therapist will help you minimize pain, restore motion and strength, and return to normal activities in the speediest manner possible after surgery.
Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?
Snapping hip syndrome can be prevented by:
- Warming up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity. Your warm-up should include stretches taught to you by your physical therapist, including those for the muscles on the front, side, and back of the hip.
- Gradually increasing the intensity of an activity or sport. Avoid pushing too hard, too fast, too soon.
- Following a consistent strength and flexibility exercise program to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sport’s off-season.
- Wearing shoes that are in good condition and fit well.