Why do I have hip pain?

By Alex Barnes, Physiotherapist

Most hip pain has a simple explanation such as a muscle strain after doing some exercise, whereby the soft tissues become inflamed. This usually clears up after a few days. Pain of a more chronic nature can be due to particular conditions. The hip joint is a large ball and socket joint. This allows it to provide the body with a good range of movement while also being very stable. The joint is held in place by a tough fibrous material called the capsule as well as a number of strong ligaments. Within the capsule is synovial fluid, which helps to lubricate the joint and provide nutrients to the cartilage. There are a number of muscles that surround the hip to help it move. 

Conditions that can cause hip pain

Osteoarthritis (OA)

OA is probably one of the most common causes of hip and groin pain in adults. It can cause pain, restricted movement and a limp. In the more severe cases, the hip can become very stiff and cause one leg to be shorter than the other. Physiotherapy is well evidenced to help provide relief of pain in the early stages of hip OA, in the later stages a hip replacement is very common and very successful.

Trochanteric Bursitis

This condition produces pain over the boney part of the hip joint and can refer down the outside of the leg. It is a common condition in which the bursae (small sacks of fluid) at the hip become irritated and inflamed. It usually responds well to physiotherapy, rest, anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers.

Avascular Necrosis

This is a more uncommon condition that causes hip pain. In this condition, the blood supply to the ball of the hip joint is lost. This results in the death of the bone tissue and can cause the femoral head to breakdown leading to arthritis.


A hernia can cause pain in the groin; you may also be able to palpate a lump in the area of pain. This is where an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall.

Back Pain

It is fairly common for back pain to refer into the area of the hip and buttock as the nerves in both these areas are closely related. A physiotherapist will be able to help confirm whether your pain is primarily as a result of a back or hip condition and scans can also be helpful to differentiate the cause.

What can you do to help your hip pain?

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol will often ease the pain. You should seek the advice of your GP or pharmacist for medical advice regarding stronger tablets. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. Ibuprofen) may also help.

Exercise is important to prevent the hip becoming stiff and maintain the strength in your muscles. While some aches or discomfort during or after exercise are normal, if the symptoms are made notably worse then the exercise should be ceased.

Helpful tips

• It is important to pace yourself when doing activities.
• It is wise to avoid sitting in a low chair or sofa, as these are difficult to get out of and put the hip into more flexion and increase the pain.
• If you are over weight, then losing weight will help to reduce the stress put on the joints.
• Use the trollies at the supermarket; don’t carry a heavy weight if you don’t have to.

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