When you're walking, the sensation of a popping hip joint can be very unnerving. Fortunately, a pain-free snapping or clicking in the hip region is rarely cause for immediate concern — your hip isn't likely popping out of place.
In many cases, popping in your hip is the result of muscle and tissue imbalances that are often correctable by using stretches and exercises. Among the most common causes of a popping hip are snapping hip syndrome, a hip labral tear and femoral acetabular impingement.
Popping can occur when gas is released from your hip joint. In some cases, hip popping can be a sign of an underlying hip condition.
Snapping Hip Syndrome
Snapping hip syndrome is a catchall phrase for a variety of muscle and tissue imbalances that result in an audible snap in the hip during movement. The most common type is external snapping hip syndrome, in which the iliotibial band snaps across the outer edge of the hip bone.
Internal snapping hip syndrome, or dancer's hip, is caused by an internal hip tendon sliding over the femur or pelvic bone. Friction from snapping tendons can cause bursitis or inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that provide cushioning in your hip joint.
Hip Labral Tear
Hip labral tears can occur suddenly as a result of trauma or over time from overuse. The hip labrum is a small cup of fibrocartilage that surrounds the socket portion of your hip joint to provide added stability in the joint.
When your labrum is torn, hip stability is compromised, and you may feel a catching sensation or popping when walking. This injury is often accompanied by groin pain when weight bearing on the affected side and is diagnosed by orthopedic testing and medical imaging.
Femoral Acetabular Impingement
The popping sound could be caused by femoral acetabular impingement (FAI). This condition generally presents with pain and popping, resulting from repetitive abnormal frictions within the hip joint.
Biomechanical abnormalities present at birth, as well as developmental changes over the years, can contribute to friction in the hip. Unfortunately, without activity modification and proper diagnosis by a professional, FAI can progress to the point of requiring surgical intervention.
Treatment for Popping Hip Joint
Some conditions that cause your hip to pop can be treated with simple home remedies, including temporary rest from activities that make it worse and anti-inflammatory medications, if approved by your physician. Medical treatment might include steroid medications or injections to treat inflammation in your joint.
Physical therapy is often effective at treating a popping hip joint. A therapist will perform an evaluation to help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. Stretching, foam rolling, manual therapy and massage can be used to help lengthen tight structures contributing to your condition. Strengthening exercises are performed to address muscle imbalances and weakness.
Physical therapists also use a variety of modalities, such as ultrasound, hot packs, ice, electrical stimulation and cold laser to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with your popping hip joint.
In some cases, a popping hip joint does not improve with conservative treatment. Surgery might be required to address the underlying cause.