Hip Popping When You Walk? Here’s What Your Body’s Trying to Tell You

Tight leg muscles are one factor that can lead to popping hips while walking.
Image Credit: kali9/E+/GettyImages

When you're walking down the street, feeling your hip pop is far from pleasant. Fortunately, a pain-free snapping or clicking in the hip is rarely cause for immediate concern — your hip probably isn't popping out of place.

In many cases, popping in your hip is the result of muscle and tissue movement that you can easily treat with some diligent stretching, targeted hip stability exercises, rest and ice. Here are four potential situations that can cause hip popping while walking and what you can do about each of them.

Advertisement

Tip

Did you know that your hip joint contains little pockets of gases like nitrogen. When any of this gas escapes your joint, a normal result of moving around, you can hear a pop.

However, in some cases, hip popping can be a sign of an underlying hip condition. If you experience pain with your hip popping, talk to your doctor.

1. Your Hips and IT Band Are Tight

The simplest reason you may be hearing a popping or snapping sound in your hips when you walk? Your muscles around your hips are tight, says Samuel Chan, DPT, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.

Specifically, Chan points to the muscles in your front hips (your hip flexors) and the long connective tissue that runs down the side of your leg (your IT band). When your IT band or hip flexors get too tight, the pelvis can almost pluck them like a guitar string as you move, causing the popping sound in your hip.

Advertisement

There are many reasons why your hip flexors and IT band can get tight. The most common one: sitting at a desk all day. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need to change your entire daily routine. Incorporating hip flexor stretches into your morning routine or workout cooldown should do the trick, Chan says.

Fix It

Chan recommends the 90/90 hip stretch as one of the best dynamic hip stretches to do before your workouts. The figure 4 stretch can also help loosen your hips.

Move 1: 90/90

  1. Sit on the floor with both knees bent and feet in front of you in front of you, about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Let your knees fall to one side, and try to reach them to the floor. You should feel a stretch in your outer and inner hips.
  3. Pause, raise your knees back up, and repeat on the opposite side.

Move 2: Figure 4

  1. Sit on the floor with both knees bent and feet in front of you in front of you, about hip-width apart.
  2. Lift one foot and place that ankle across the other leg's knee. You should feel a stretch in your raised leg's hip.
  3. Lean your torso toward your thighs to deepen the stretch.

2. You Have Snapping Hip Syndrome

Yes, snapping hip syndrome sounds a little scary. But it may be the reason you have a popping hip joint while you walk or get up from a chair, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). The snapping happens when your tendons or muscles rub or move over the bony part of your hip.

Advertisement

Also known as dancer's hip, usually, snapping hip syndrome is pretty painless, but it can be annoying and cause other issues, according to the AAOS. Your hips have fluid-filled sacs (aka bursa sacs) that help reduce friction in the joints. Snapping hip syndrome can cause these sacs to swell and feel sore or painful — a condition known as bursitis.

Snapping hip is often caused by tightness in the muscles and tendons around your hips (see the tip above). But in some cases, it can also be the result of sports or activities that involve frequently bending at the hip, according to the AAOS.

Advertisement

Fix It

If you think you may be experiencing snapping hip syndrome, start adding some dynamic hip mobility stretches (see above) to your workout routine. Also consider reducing your weekly workout intensity or frequency and apply ice to your hips as needed, per the AAOS.

3. Your Hip Joint Is Pinching Your Tendons or Muscles

Your hip is a ball-and-socket joint, which is why you can move your legs in all directions. However, the ball of the hip (your femoral head) can pinch the cup-shaped part of the joint (your acetabulum), according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

This pinching, called hip impingement can be painful and cause a pop or snap when you move your hips, especially when you your torso and thighs get closer to each other, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Hip impingement isn't necessarily dangerous, but it can be problematic if you let it fester too long. For starters, it can potentially cause labral tearing (more on that below). If you're feeling any sharp pain, it's best to consult a doctor before you try treating the issue on your own.

Fix It

Stretch and rest your hips after exercise and consider modifying your workouts to avoid of bending through your hips at least until the hip snapping subsides, recommends Johns Hopkins Medicine.

4. You Have a Labral Tear

A labral tear is no laughing matter. Your labrum is the cartilage within the ball-and-socket joint of your hip, according to the Mayo Clinic. This cartilage provides a layer of cushion between the bones. But if it's torn, it can get caught in the joint, causing a popping or snapping noise.

In some cases, labral tears can feel like pain or swelling in your hips or upper inner thighs. Usually, the pain feels worse after you've been standing, sitting or walking too long, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most of the time, people can live their lives with labral tears, relieving any symptoms by adjusting their workout routine or undergoing physical therapy. In some cases, however, people have surgery to actually repair the cartilage. (Cartilage does not heal on its own.)

Fix It

If you're experiencing pain, the first thing to do is consult a doctor. They may refer you to a sports medicine physician or orthopedic specialist for an MRI.

Related Reading

Advertisement

references