Hip pain

Lesley Dobson / 15 December 2015 ( 07 February 2017 )

Our guide to the most common hip problems, what causes them, and what you can do about them.



Our hips do a lot of work, every day of our lives. Healthy hips mean that we’re able to sit, stand, climb stairs, walk, run, and curl up in bed at night. So when something goes wrong with them, it isn’t just painful, it makes our every-day lives difficult.

Find out what causes hip problems, and what you, your doctor or a hip specialist can do about them.

Sneaky signs of bones problems

How your hips work

Our hips are what are known as ball-and-socket joints. This means that at the top of the bone in your femur (the leg bone that goes from your hip to the top of your knee), the bone is ball-shaped.

The ball part of the bone fits into a socket in your pelvis (the acetabulum). This joint is kept in place by a tough sleeve called the capsule, which has lubricating fluid to help the joint move smoothly. And muscles get to work every time you want to move your legs, whether you’re standing up, walking, or dancing.

Hip joint

Who is most affected by hip pain?

If you have only had hip pain for a few days, it’s likely that you’ve been doing too much exercise, or manual work, such as gardening. The most common cause of hip pain is osteoarthritis, which is the most common arthritis in the UK.

You are more likely to develop osteoarthritis if you are in your late 40s or older, are a woman, and are obese. You can still develop hip pain even if none of these apply to you.

Find out more about hip and knee osteoarthritis

Common hip problems

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis causes damage to your joints, and can make them feel painful and stiff, especially if you’ve been immobile for a while.

The damage this condition causes can mean that your joints don’t work as well as they should, and may mean you find it difficult to do every-day things, such as climbing stairs.

Find out more about osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can cause damage to the cartilage, which covers the ends of the bones, and you may also develop osteophytes, which are bony growths at the edges of your hip joints.

Osteoarthritis can cause other symptoms as well, such as creaking and crunching noises from the joint. These happen when you move and are known as crepitus.

You’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis as you become older, and as mentioned above, being female, and being overweight or obese increases the risk.

Damaging your hip joint, or being born with joint abnormalities can also lead to osteoarthritis, as can having a family history of this condition (although this only raises your risk by a small amount).

Physically demanding jobs, and an injury – or operation - on your hip joint can also increase your risk.

Sometimes you can feel pain in other places in your body, even though the problem is in your hip. So hip joint problems may cause pain in your buttock, down the front of your leg, and in your knee. This is quite common and is known as referred pain.

If the pain in your hip joint isn’t too bad, there are things you can do to help yourself. If you are overweight or obese, try to lose weight. And if you aren’t in a lot of pain, try some gentles exercise.

Swimming is known to be helpful for osteoarthritis, and the water will help support your body, while you’re in the pool.

Lifestyle changes for osteoarthritis

You can also try taking over-the-counter painkillers (as long as they are OK to take with any medicine you’re already having – check with your doctor). If you’ve been doing a lot of physical work or exercise, try to cut back on the amount you do.

Treatments for osteoarthritis

If you’re in severe pain that hasn’t got better after taking painkillers for two weeks, make an appointment to see your GP.

However, if you’ve fallen over or had any other sort of accident that triggered your hip pain, see your doctor at once. You should also see your GP straight away if you’re finding it difficult to walk, go up or down stairs, or you’re feeling ill and are losing weight without trying to.

Osteoporosis

This is a condition that makes your bones less dense, so they’re more fragile and prone to break or fracture.

Osteoporosis is more common in older people, especially women who have gone through the menopause. The menopause makes a difference because the drop in the hormone oestrogen can rapidly reduce bone density.

Osteoporosis – the foods to eat and the treatments available

Osteoporosis in men

Causes of osteoporosis in men include drinking too much alcohol, and having low levels of testosterone (hypogonadism).

Risk factors include having a family history of osteoporosis, drinking or smoking too much, having an eating disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis.

If you think you may be at risk of osteoporosis, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include regular exercise. Ideally you need to do up to two and a half hours of moderate aerobic exercise, for instance, cycling or fast walking, each week (for adults up to the age of 64)

Muscle-strengthening exercises are also important. Start gently and build up slowly to avoid any risk of injury. For example, stand behind a chair, holding on to the back of it to keep you steady, and slowly raise your heels off the floor, then slowly lower them again. 

Our home muscle-strengthening programme

If you are concerned that you may have osteoporosis, particularly if you have any of the known risk factors, see your GP. They may suggest that you have a bone density - or Central DXA - scan.

This should help your GP decide whether you need treatment, usually in the form of drugs that reduce the break down of bone, or that stimulate the building of new bone.

Hip fracture

Fracture is another term for broken bone. Your hip can fracture because the bones have become thinner, and more fragile, often as a result of osteoporosis. Because of this hip fractures can be quite common in women past the menopause.

If you have a fractured hip you will probably need an operation to fix the broken bone. And if the fracture has happened because you have osteoporosis, your doctor will probably want to treat you to prevent further bone loss and further fractures. (see osteoporosis, above).

20 ways to reduce your risk of a hip fracture

Breaking new ground for osteoporosis

Bursitis of the hip

This condition happens when one or more of our bursa becomes infected.

Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that provide a cushion between bones, tendons and muscles.

You can develop bursitis when one or more of your bursa becomes inflamed or swollen. They can feel tender, and even painful when this happens. Bursitis is quite common in the hips, and also in shoulders, elbows and knees.

Other symptoms of bursitis on your hip include feeling pain when you lie on your side, or press on the outside of the affected hip. You can also find it painful when you walk upstairs, or get out of a car.

You’re more at risk of bursitis if you do a lot of repetitive movements, either through your pastimes – gardening, for instance – or through sport, running is a good example.

You can also develop bursitis on your hip if you have fallen on that side, or bumped that hip against something.

If you feel tender over the bony part of your hip, you may have trochanteric bursitis, because the bursa sits on the outer edge (the greater trochanter) of your femur, or thighbone. This is quite common, and often happens in both hips.

Simple treatment with painkillers, rest, improving your posture, and, if needed, physiotherapy, usually ease the pain.

Aching joints: what's the cause?

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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