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Dancer's Hip — Houston, Beaumont, Cypress

Dancer’s hip, also called snapping hip syndrome, is a condition that causes you to hear or feel a snapping or popping sound in the hip while swinging your legs, running, walking or getting up from a chair.

Movement of the muscles or tendons over a bony protrusion in the hip region gives rise to the snapping sound, which can occur in the back, front or side of the hip.

Dancers and athletes who have to repeatedly bend the leg at the hip are the most vulnerable to snapping hip syndrome.

Anatomy of Dancer's Hip

The hip comprises the femur, which is the rounded end of the thighbone, and the acetabulum, which is the cup-shaped socket in the pelvis. Because of how these fit together, the hip is considered a ball-and-socket joint. 

Surrounding the acetabulum is fibrocartilage called the labrum. The labrum essentially serves as a seal surrounding the socket, adding additional stability. There are also ligaments around the entire joint that help keep everything securely in place.

Tendons overtop all the ligaments attach muscles in the thighs, pelvis and buttocks to bones and control hip movement. Fluid-filled sacs, known as bursae, surround the hip to cushion the bones, ligaments and tendons.

Dancer's Hip

Areas Where Snapping Hip Can Happen

There are several different areas of the hip where snapping hip can occur. Here are a few specific locations:

Snapping Hip
(Left) This front-view of the hip and thigh shows musculature most often associated with snapping hip: the iliotibial band, rectus femoris tendon, and iliopsoas muscle.
(Right) The biceps femoris hamstring muscle travels under the gluteus maximus and can snap as it moves over the ischial tuberosity.

Outside of the Hip

Snapping hip syndrome is most commonly connected to the iliotibial band (ITB). The ITB, which runs from the outside of the hip joint to below the knee, helps to stabilize the knee. Any time this tendon becomes tight, it can decrease flexibility and movement and cause snapping sounds. 

When the Hip Is Straight

Similarly, you may have issues when your hip is straight. When the hip bends, the ITB, located behind the trochanter, moves over and in front of the trochanter. Because of how tight the ITB is, it can create an audible snapping noise whenever it moves over the trochanter.

Front of the Hip

If the rectus femoris tendon snaps, you'll feel it in the front of your hip. This tendon runs from the front of the thigh to the pelvis. It shifts depending on how you have your hip positioned. When you bend at the hip, the rectus femoris will shift over the top of the thighbone and then go back to the side of your thighbone when you straighten out your hip. The back-and-forth movement results in the snapping. 

Back of the Hip

Snapping can also occur at the back of the hip. This issue often involves the hamstring tendon, which is attached to the ischial tuberosity. It can sometimes catch whenever the hamstring moves across the ischial tuberosity, also known as the sitting bone. You'll hear and feel the snapping in the buttock area when this happens. 

Areas With Cartilage Problems

Cartilage problems can also contribute to snapping hip syndrome, whether due to a fall or other trauma. You'll usually experience a limited range of motion as the tendon catches and causes the snapping sensation. 

These cartilage injuries can stem from a tear in the acetabular labral, which is the tough cartilage that surrounds the hip socket, or even loose bodies like fragmented tissue or bone that get caught in the hip-and-ball socket. These injuries can happen suddenly or develop due to a specific injury like a direct hit. 

This type of snapping hip is often more painful than the other types and can affect mobility.

Is Snapping Hip Syndrome Serious?

In most cases, dancer's hip is not serious, though you may find the snapping sensation annoying. However, the syndrome can also lead to bursitis, a painful swelling of the bursae.

For athletes and dancers, snapping hip syndrome may be a greater concern, since it can sometimes limit movement and create weakness that impacts performance.

What Causes Dancer's Hip?

The most common cause of snapping hip syndrome is tightness in the muscles and tendons surrounding the hip. Such tension can result from repeated use of these muscles, which is why dancers are particularly prone to hip popping.

Sometimes, a loose piece of cartilage, cartilage tear or pieces of cartilage or bone in the joint space can lead to a hip snapping sensation, as well. This may also lock the hip, causing disability along with the pain, though this is less common.

Snapping or catching in the hip can also be caused by tears in the labrum or damage to the cartilage that covers the bones of the joint.

Since activities like dancing and playing sports require athletes to bend at the hip repeatedly, these people are more likely to develop dancer's hip. Young athletes are also more likely to have snapping hip. This is because tightness in the muscle structures of the hip is common during adolescent growth spurts.

When you see an orthopedic doctor like Dr. Gombera, finding the underlying cause of your snapping hip will likely be your first priority. Your doctor will discuss your medical history and symptoms with you and conduct a physical examination to detect the exact cause of snapping.

At this appointment, you may be asked to reproduce the snapping sound by moving your hip in different directions. Your doctor may also order imaging tests to rule out bone and joint problems.

What Are the Different Types of Dancer's Hip

There are three types of dancer's hip:

Internal Dancer's Hip

The most common form of snapping hip syndrome, internal dancer's hip occurs when a tendon slides over a bony protrusion on the front of the hip joint. Usually, the muscle responsible for internal hip snapping is either the iliopsoas tendon, which connects inner hip muscles to the thighbone — or the rectus femoris. You might hear these muscles conversationally called hip flexors.

External Dancer's Hip

The next type of dancer's hip, external snapping, occurs when a muscle or tendon — usually the iliotibial (IT) band or gluteus maximus — catches on the top of the femur, a region of bone called the greater trochanter. This type of snapping may indicate that the IT band or gluteus maximus is tense or overworked.

Hip Snapping Due to Injury

The final type of dancer's hip is caused by a cartilage injury, not just tense muscles. Sudden trauma can cause tears in joint cartilage or loose matter in the hip socket, which can lead to a snapping sensation. If you have a cartilage injury, you may also experience pain, a catching sensation and restricted movement.

How Is It Diagnosed?

To begin, Dr. Gombera will ask several questions and perform a physical exam. You can expect your pain specialist to have you get into different positions to test everything from your pain level to your hips' alignment to help them determine whether you have snapping hip syndrome.

During this time, the specialist may order additional medical imaging like X-rays or MRIs. These scans can help Dr. Gombera to get a closer and more detailed look at your hip area. 

As part of your examination, it's also important to rule out other conditions which could be causing symptoms similar to dancer's hip, such as: 

  • Hip joint synovitis. 
  • Hip arthritis. 
  • Tumors in the hip.
  • Meralgia paresthetica. 

Does Snapping Hip Syndrome Go Away?

Oftentimes, a snapping hip will go away on its own following a break from physical activity. However, because dancer's hip is related to overuse, you may have to intentionally take action to address it.

Rest and modification of activities may be suggested initially by your doctor. A few home remedies can be followed if you experience minor snapping hip pain, which include:

Home Remedies For Dancer's Hip

Most people do not see a doctor for snapping hip unless they experience some pain. If the snapping hip bothers you — but not to the point of seeing a doctor — try the following conservative home treatment options:

  • Applying ice to the affected area
  • Using NSAIDs to reduce discomfort
  • Avoiding repetitive hip movements by changing your activities
  • Reduce your activity levels and apply ice to the affected area.
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce discomfort.
  • Modify your sport or exercise activities to avoid repetitive movement of the hip. For example, reduce time spent on a bicycle, and swim using your arms only.

Do You Need Surgery for Snapping Hip Syndrome?

If snapping hip persists, you may want to consider other treatment options. Both surgical and non-surgical treatments can effectively treat hip popping. Non-surgical treatment options include:

Surgery is recommended when conservative approaches do not resolve the snapping hip syndrome, which is rare. The type of surgery will depend on the factors that cause your hip to snap. Surgical procedures include:

Before recommending a course of action, your surgeon will discuss the best options depending on your situation. As with all medical procedures, the right surgery for you will depend on your specific needs and injury.

Physical Therapy

Your doctor may teach you certain exercises to strengthen and stretch the musculature surrounding the hip. Particular tendon stretching exercises such as iliotibial band stretch and piriformis stretch will be indicated depending on the type of snapping you experience.

Steroid Injections

Your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid to be injected into the bursa to reduce the pain and inflammation in the hip joint.

Hip Arthroscopy

This procedure treats dancer's hip by removing or repairing the torn labrum. Your surgeon will insert an arthroscope (small camera) into your hip joint so that surgical instruments can be guided with the help of images displayed on a large screen. Very small cuts are required for this procedure due to the presence of a small arthroscope and surgical instruments.

Open Procedure 

Open surgery can help your surgeon gain better access to the hip problem causing snapping to occur. Your surgeon will make an open incision of several centimeters to resolve the issue of snapping hip.

Frequently Asked Questions About Snapping Hip Syndrome and Treatment

Interested in learning more about snapping hip syndrome, treatment and surgery? Check out a few of our most frequently asked questions: 

What Happens After Treatment 

For some, snapping hip syndrome is painless. Others may experience minor discomfort or pain which can be remedied by home treatments like:

  • Cold compress.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Reducing or modifying physical activity. 

These treatments will help relieve pain and allow your muscles and tendons to heal. If the pain is unmanageable, you'll need to seek medical treatment. Depending on your condition's cause and severity, your doctor may recommend:

  • Non-surgical treatments: There are several non-surgical treatments you can try. Incorporating a stretching program or massage therapy can ease tension and pain. Others may find that things like ice or an anti-inflammatory medication work best. Sometimes, resting and allowing the hip area to heal is the most effective way to heal and prevent re-injuring it.
  • Surgical treatments: If non-surgical treatments don't work for snapping hip syndrome, your treatment doctor may recommend a different approach. Surgery is an option for patients with more involved cases or those with an underlying condition, damaged cartilage or loose bodies. Surgical treatment can vary based on each patient's individual needs and situation. 

What's the Outlook After Treatment? 

Overall, the outlook after snapping hip syndrome treatment is positive. Dancer's hip is often a benign condition that can be managed at home with stretches or medical treatment. 

If rapid growth influences your child's snapping hip syndrome, you can expect the symptoms to diminish once they've stopped growing. Similarly, with the proper care, athletes can prevent or manage snapping hip syndrome by stretching and resting when necessary.

Patients undergoing surgery must take special care and follow their doctor's directions for a smooth post-op recovery. Sometimes, physical therapy will be incorporated into the treatment plan to help ensure normal, pain-free range of motion and function. 

Find a Dancer's Hip Treatment Specialist in Houston

At best, the snapping caused by dancer's hip is a nuisance — at worst, snapping hip syndrome can restrict your range of movement, cause pain and inflammation and keep you from doing the activities you love.

In order to help patients like you perform your best, we provide treatment for dancer's hip to patients in Houston, Beaumont and Cypress. Before recommending surgical options, Dr. Gombera will work with you to find a personalized and often non-surgical care and recovery route.

To schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options for your snapping hip, reach out to us today.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Arthroscopy Association of North America american shoulder and elbow society international society for hip arthroscopy