Snapping hips can be a scary sound for any athlete. However, there is no need to be alarmed if you notice your hips making a snapping, clicking or popping noise. Clicking hips are actually a fairly common condition among active people, and there are plenty of remedies to reduce hip pain.
In this article, we'll look at what causes clicking hips, what dancer's hip is, who is most at risk of developing these conditions, and how to prevent and treat snapping hips. If you've experienced clicking hips recently, keep reading to find out how to relieve your hip pain.
What Causes Hips to Click?
Whenever a hip starts to click, it is usually due to snapping hip syndrome (SHS), a hip disorder medically referred to as coxa saltans. SHS occurs when the muscle tendons around the hip joint become inflamed and begin to click as they rub over the hip socket bone. Because stretching the tendons creates extra tension, someone with SHS can typically hear a snapping sound or feel a snapping sensation when moving their hip joint.
There are three different types of SHS, and the root cause of a clicking hip depends on the type. Below are the three variations of SHS and what causes them:
1. External SHS
External SHS is the most common type. The condition occurs when the iliotibial band slides over the top of the femur along the outside of the hip. Also known as the IT band, the iliotibial band runs along the outside of the thigh and consists of connective tissue called fascia. When this connective tissue gets too tight, it has trouble sliding over the femur and may make a snapping noise during hip movement.
Pain and tenderness due to external SHS are typically felt along the outside of the hip. Because the IT band plays such a large role in hip mobility, those with external SHS may experience snapping when running or climbing stairs. External SHS symptoms may worsen over time to the point where it hurts to even lie on the affected hip at night.
2. Internal SHS
Another form of SHS that involves the hip muscle and tendons is internal SHS. Internal SHS is typically caused when the iliopsoas tendon — which connects the inner hip muscle to the thigh bone — moves over the pelvic bone, resulting in the hip muscle or tendons sliding over the front of the hip joint. Alternatively, internal SHS may be caused by the quadriceps muscle moving over the ball portion of the hip's ball-and-socket joint.
Unlike external SHS, internal SHS is felt in the front part of the hip and may include pain near the groin area. Those with internal SHS usually experience gradually worsening symptoms and may even hear popping when they run.
3. Intra-Articular SHS
As opposed to external and internal SHS, intra-articular SHS is not caused by a muscle or tendon issue. Instead, a preexisting hip joint problem or injury can lead to intra-articular SHS. Because it stems from a prior injury or trauma, this condition can occur suddenly.
The three most common intra-articular SHS causes include:
- An articular cartilage injury — any injury that affects the cartilage around the ball or socket of the hip joint.
- An acetabular labral tear — a rip in the cartilage that lines the hip socket.
- Broken bone fragments of loose tissue getting trapped between the hip's ball-and-socket joint.
What Is Dancer's Hip?
Because of the technical maneuvers required for certain moves, snapping hip syndrome is especially common in ballet dancers and SHS is often referred to as dancer's hip. Just like SHS, dancer's hip involves popping or snapping hips when moving the legs in certain ways. Although the snapping noises that accompany dancer's hip are often painless and harmless, they may sometimes involve pain and weakness in the hips.
Dancer's hip typically refers to internal SHS when the iliopsoas tendon rolls over the hip bone during flexion and external rotation. Excessively tight quads can also lead to dancer's hip symptoms. Considering dancers must repeatedly rotate and lift their legs to execute certain moves, dancer's hip can make performing uncomfortable or painful, which can derail training.
More severe cases of dancer's hip may include pain, inflammation, muscle weakness, swelling and the feeling that the hip is coming out of place. In its worst form, dancer's hip can result in hip bursitis, which is the painful swelling of the fluid-filled sacs surrounding the hip joint.
Who Typically Develops Clicking Hips?
Although clicking hips can happen to anyone, SHS is most common in females. Of course, dancers are especially prone to developing dancer's hip. However, snapping hips can be a problem for any athlete involved in a sport or activity that requires repetitive bending at the hip. Specifically, high-mobility sports such as soccer, running and gymnastics put participants at a greater risk of SHS.
Because SHS is typically caused by tightness in the muscles and tendons around the hip area, those who neglect to stretch and build up their flexibility are especially at risk of developing snapping hip syndrome. Young athletes, in particular, are more likely to have clicking hips because tightness in the hip's muscle structures is a common side effect of adolescent growth spurts.
How to Prevent and Treat Clicking Hips
Although clicking hips is usually not a serious condition, leaving SHS untreated could lead to worse symptoms and even early onset joint degeneration. Fortunately, there are many conservative treatment options to alleviate snapping hips and mitigate hip pain.
Building up the hip's strength and flexibility can help reduce an athlete's chances of developing SHS. Along with strengthening the hips, strengthening the core can also decrease the likelihood of hip pain from clicking hips. Simple exercise moves to work the hip muscles include clamshells and glute bridges.
Along with strengthening the muscles surrounding your hips, try these five tips for relieving snapping hips:
Allowing your hip to rest from any rigorous activity may help lessen SHS symptoms. Taking a break from a certain sport will give your muscles and tendons time to repair themselves and heal. While resting, try placing a cold compress on the affected area to reduce inflammation and pain.
2. Warm Up
Once you return to your regular activities, be sure to warm up thoroughly before jumping into your workout. Warming up will help loosen up your muscles and prepare your body for the movements it is about to perform. Taking the time to warm up before exercising will reduce the risk of developing SHS by promoting blood flow to keep the muscles flexible and pliable.
3. Wear the Right Shoes
You can avoid suffering from tight or weak hips by wearing shoes that provide proper arch support when you exercise. The shoes you wear to work out should be comfortable while giving your feet the stability they need. Because most dance shoes, such as ballet slippers, offer little to no arch support, it is essential for ballerinas and other dancers to wear supportive footwear off stage.
4. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water each day will help keep your joints lubricated, which aids the range of motion in the hips. Because water also moves essential nutrients throughout your body, staying well-hydrated will improve your muscle performance and enable you to build more hip strength and stability.
Stretching out your hips and legs after working out can help relieve hip tightness and pain. Lengthening and stretching your IT band and iliopsoas tendon can help reduce the tension in these areas and decrease hip snapping. Be sure to take time to stretch your IT band, hip flexors and hamstrings back out after every exercise session.
Contact Dr. Gombera for Hip-Related Pain and Injuries
Even after taking measures to strengthen and stretch your hips, you can still experience snapping hips and hip pain. If you're suffering from a hip injury or hip-related pain, contact Dr. Gombera today to get expert care. Dr. Gombera is a trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee, hip and shoulder injuries, which means he knows how to help patients recover as quickly as possible so they can get back to their usual activities.
Dr. Gombera and his team offer minimally invasive, specialized treatment plans at their practice conveniently located at Fondren Orthopedic Group and Texas Orthopedic Hospital in the heart of Houston. They also service patients within the Beaumont and Cypress areas. To begin your road to recovery, book an appointment with Dr. Gombera online or call 713-794-3457 today.