Why Does My Hip Pop When I Walk?

Woman Walking Away
A snapping hip is commonly caused by muscle imbalances. (Image: Constance Knox/iStock/Getty Images)

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 of immediate concern. 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.

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.

Hip Labral Tear

Hip labral tears can occur suddenly or over time. The hip labrum is a small cup of fibrocartilage that helps provide stability in the joint. When the labrum is torn, hip stability is compromised, and a catching sensation or popping may be felt when walking. This injury is often accompanied by groin pain and is diagnosed by orthopedic testing and medical imaging.

Femoral Acetabular Impingement

The popping sound could be caused by femoral acetabular impingement, or FAI. FAI 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

A physical therapy program that includes stretching, foam rolling and strengthening your hips will often resolve "snapping hip syndrome." However, if the sound is accompanied by pain, tingling or numbness, an evaluation by a qualified health professional is highly recommended. A thorough evaluation can determine the underlying cause of your popping hip. Your doctor may recommend an antiinflammatory injection or, in severe cases, surgery.

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