Snapping Hip Syndrome

If you hear an audible clicking sound or feel a snapping sensation when you move your hip joint, you may have snapping hip syndrome.

What is Snapping Hip Syndrome?

Snapping hip syndrome (SHS) is a hip disorder that is caused by inflamed muscle tendons that slide over the hip socket bone. SHS is typically painless, but the snapping sensation it causes can be frustrating and increase your risk for joint damage. More severe cases of SHS can result in hip pain when training and conditions like bursitis (inflamed fluid-filled sacs that provide cushion for your hip joint) that limit hip mobility.

What is the Main Cause of Snapping Hip Syndrome?

Snapping hip syndrome is most often caused by tightness in the muscles and tendons around the hip due to overuse. While SHS is more common in women, it can affect all people regardless of their gender or age. Athletes, dancers, and people who participate in physical activities that require repeated bending at the hip are especially prone to SHS. Additionally, young athletes can easily develop this hip disorder, as tightness in the muscle structures surrounding the hip is common during growth spurts.

Depending upon the activity you participate in and your symptoms, there are three main types of SHS: internal, external, and injury related.

3 Types of Snapping Hip Syndrome

Internal SHS

Internal SHS occurs when your hip muscles or tendons slide over the front of your hip joint. This type of SHS is commonly triggered by your iliopsoas tendon — which connects your interior hip muscles to your femur (thighbone) — sliding over a ridge on your iliopectineal eminence.

Another cause of internal SHS is when the rectus femoris (quadriceps) slides across the femoral head (ball) of your hip’s ball-and-socket joint. Internal SHS symptoms are often experienced by people who are running, getting up from a seated position, or during hip rotation.

External SHS

External SHS occurs when your hip muscles or tendons slide over the greater trochanter bone, which is a knobby bone that sits at the top of your femur. This type of SHS is typically caused by your iliotibial band (IT band) or gluteus maximus muscle sliding over your greater trochanter. People who participate in activities like running, climbing stairs, golfing, or carrying heavy loads can easily experience the snapping sensation or pain associated with external SHS.

Injury-Related SHS

Hip joint injuries and cartilage damage also causes SHS. A few common injuries or issues that trigger this type of SHS include:

  • Articular Cartilage Injury: This type of cartilage covers the surface of your bones to reduce friction where they articulate. The articular cartilage that lines the ball or socket of your hip joint can become damaged from a traumatic injury or osteoarthritis, causing SHS.
  • Acetabular Labral Tear: Your acetabular labrum is a band of connective tissue that rings your hip socket, much like a gasket. When this connective tissue is torn, it can cause SHS and pain in the groin area.
  • Broken Bone Fragments or Loose Tissue: Typically caused by trauma, loose bone fragments or tissue can get in the way of your hip’s natural movements within the ball and socket, causing SHS. 

What Are the Symptoms of Snapping Hip Syndrome?

Snapping hip syndrome can cause multiple symptoms, ranging from painless, audible snapping to sharp hip pain when flexing or rotating your hip. A few of the most common symptoms of SHS include:

  • Audible hip cracking, snapping, or popping
  • The sensation of your hip “catching”
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Pain that worsens over time or with activity
  • Weak leg muscles
  • Difficulty walking or standing up out of a seated position
  • The feeling that your hip is going out of place

How is Snapping Hip Syndrome Diagnosed?

When diagnosing snapping hip syndrome, a doctor or physiotherapist will typically begin by[1]  conducting an interview and a physical exam with a patient. Medical imaging — such as X-rays or MRIs — might also be required to get a better view of the hip joint. Before an official diagnosis is given, a doctor will rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms, such as hip osteoarthritis.

Once diagnosis of SHS has been finalized, the patient will receive recommended treatments based on severity and symptoms. This could range from treatments as simple as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) to personalized exercise programs from a licensed physical therapist.

Virtual Snapping Hip Syndrome Diagnosis

Virtual physical therapy applications can also be used to diagnose snapping hip syndrome. For example, Joint Academy’s app features audio-visual (AV) smartphone functionality that allows licensed PTs to accurately diagnose SHS during an initial evaluation call. In addition to Joint Academy’s AV diagnoses capabilities, PTs can also use their clinical reasoning skills to determine if a patient is suitable for Joint Academy’s digital physical therapy platform or if they need to be referred out to a doctor for more testing or to an in-clinic PT.

Home Remedies for Snapping Hip Syndrome

Home remedies can be quite effective for treating snapping hip syndrome when little to no pain is present. Start by limiting strenuous physical activity, adhering to the RICE method, and using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or COX-2 inhibitors[2]  to allow the muscles and tendons in your hip to heal. Once you feel ready to start strength training and conditioning, it’s important to properly work your IT band, hip flexors, hamstrings, and piriformis[3]  to build strength back in your hip. If you’re not used to exercising, consider using some resistance bands to easily strengthen your muscles at home.

More severe cases of SHS that cause swelling, tenderness, severe pain, or bursitis might require professional help. For example, virtual physical therapy platforms like Joint Academy allows you to work with a professional physical therapist (PT) to develop a personalized exercise program from the comfort of home. This will help heal your muscles and tendons faster while increasing your range of hip mobility. Fortunately, surgery for this type of hip condition is rare[4] , and is only recommended to relieve severe long-term pain or immobility. 

The Benefits of Virtual Physical Therapy for Snapping Hip Syndrome

For most cases of snapping hip syndrome or hip osteoarthritis, virtual physical therapy is a great treatment option with proven results. After an initial virtual consultation, a licensed PT can develop a customized treatment plan and provide digitally guided rehabilitation exercises or movements through video conferencing tools. Additionally, many virtual physical therapy platforms like Joint Academy’s allow PTs to closely track patient progress and goals, which allows them to customize treatment plans quickly and efficiently.

Interested in learning more about how virtual physical therapy can be used to treat your snapping hip syndrome? Get in touch with Joint Academy today and start treating hip pain from the comfort of home.


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