Snapping Hip Syndrome: Causes and Treatments

If you hear a snap in your hip when you walk, stand up or swing your leg, you may have snapping hip syndrome. Though the sound often causes concern, it is generally not a condition that requires treatment. It is most commonly found in dancers and other athletes.

Snapping hip usually occurs when a tendon moves across a bony structure. This can occur on the outside or inside of the hip. On the outside, it occurs when the iliotibial (IT) band snaps across the greater trochanter, the top of the thigh bone that sticks out. When snapping occurs on the inside of the hip near the groin, it is likely caused by the iliopsoas tendon snapping across bones of the pelvis. This tendon stretches from the inner thigh to the pelvis.

Is the snapping a cause for concern? The medical community says no, unless it is associated with pain. Pain can occur when the tendons and surrounding muscles are tight. The IT band is more prone to snap across the greater trochanter if the band is tight. The IT band can become tight when the gluteus medius muscle, an important hip stabilizer, is weak; this can lead the tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle to compensate for the gluteus medius and to become tight from overuse. The TFL connects to the IT band; when the muscle is tight, it pulls on the IT band and causes it to tighten as well. Since the IT band runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the thigh, tightness of this structure can cause pain at the hip and the knee as well as altered body mechanics. See  for information on stretching the TFL and IT band. The glute muscle should be strengthened as well to correct the imbalance.

The iliopsoas tendon may snap over the bones of the pelvis if the psoas muscle to which it attaches is tight. Psoas muscles are commonly tight in the general population. They are hip flexors, which means they work to bring the lower and upper body together. Since they are held in a shortened position when sitting and sitting is a regular part of many people’s day, tight psoas muscles are not uncommon. They may be especially tight in runners and cyclists, who use the muscles frequently. A tight psoas pulls up on the iliopsoas tendon, possibly causing it to snap across bones when the hip moves. See You may also need to use a foam roller to lengthen tight psoas muscles.

Bursitis occurs when a bursa is inflamed. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that lay between bones and muscles or tendons; the bursa helps these structures glide over one another without experiencing friction. There are bursae between the greater trochanters and the IT bands and between the front of the hip joint and the psoas muscle. When structures are tight and inflamed, they can rub against the bursae and cause them to become inflamed. An inflamed bursa fills with extra fluid and causes pain whenever a structure moves across it. It is generally tender to the touch as well. If you experience pain with snapping hip syndrome, bursitis may be involved.

Diagnosing the cause of snapping hip syndrome may be difficult. A doctor or physical therapist can move your leg in such a way as to recreate the snapping in an attempt to isolate the relevant structures involved. Exercise therapy should be sufficient to treat muscular causes of snapping hip syndrome. Rarely, snapping hip can be caused by torn or broken pieces of cartilage or bone inside the joint. This may require steroid injections or surgery.

While the medical community generally dismisses cases of snapping hip syndrome that aren’t accompanied by pain, it is good for you to know that the sound you hear could indicate muscle tension that, eventually, could result in pain. Incorporating some stretches or foam rolling into your exercise routine may be sufficient to relieve the annoying snap you hear when you move your hip.

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