Snapping Hip Syndrome

By Erin Higins, DPT
Jumpstart Physical Therapy

Ever notice a weird popping sensation in your hip when you lift your leg, such as when marching or doing the bicycle ab exercise? You just may have snapping hip syndrome.

Snapping hip syndrome is caused by a tendon sliding over a bony structure in your hip. Most commonly, the IT band pops over the greater trochanter (the upper part of your femur) or the hip flexor pops over part of your pelvic bone. This is typically pain free and is not necessarily an issue... but it can definitely be quite an annoyance! Sometimes it can become painful, especially if your activity or line of work causes the frequent, repetitive hip movements that lead to the tendon sliding. Dancing is the most common sport in which snapping hip syndrome can lead to pain or impaired function.

Stretches that may help include the kneeling hip flexor stretch, the standing IT band stretch, and the standing quad stretch. (See your ARX trainer or visit us at Jumpstart for a demonstration of these stretches.) Any of these tight muscles may contribute to the snapping hip sensation. If a tight muscle is the true cause, you will not see an immediate change in symptoms. It takes at least 1-2 months to see a true change in flexibility when you stretch consistently, so don't get discouraged!

Other times strengthening your gluteus medius muscle or your abs can help. Weak abs lead to overusing your hip flexors, while weak glutes lead to overusing your TFL muscle (which connects to your IT band). Therefore, strengthening these muscles by doing exercises such as planks, side planks, and side-lying hip abduction can significantly reduce the popping.

When doing hip abduction exercises, keep your hip straight to use the gluteus medius muscle - bending it up/forward while doing the exercise causes you to use your TFL instead, which is the muscle we want to avoid strengthening. Similar to stretching, strength gains are typically not seen for at least 6-8 weeks, so be patient and committed.

Sometimes just some simple changes in your mechanics can significantly reduce the amount of popping you feel in your hip. It may just be that you are not properly engaging your abs or hip muscles when you flex your hip. Try tightening your stomach (pretend as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach and you have to brace to withstand the punch) while moving your leg. For instance, if marching causes the hip pain, try tightening your stomach and then lifting your leg up. If this decreases the frequency of hip popping, it may be that you have to learn to engage your abs more during functional activities and exercises in order to decrease the over-activation of your hip flexor.

As mentioned, snapping hip syndrome may not be too much of an issue, especially if it happens infrequently -- such as only with certain exercises. If it is bothersome or annoying, try the above exercises or simply avoid the exercises that cause the snapping to decrease unneeded stress. If it happens regularly throughout the day, then tendon may get inflamed and eventually cause pain. If you do have pain, it may be wise to seek medical attention to make sure that the inflamed area is properly cared for.