Hearing a clicking sound or feeling a popping when performing leg raises can be alarming. In many cases, the clicking is nothing to worry about, but it can be a sign of impending inflammation or popping hip syndrome. If you experience clicking in the hips every time you do leg raises or other movement at the hip joint, consult your health care provider for a thorough diagnosis.
Friction or Fixation
Anatomist Paul Grilley explains that joints make noise when bones rub together or when the bones of a joint are fixated. When bones rub together, such as when you snap your fingers, it creates friction and a sound. Popping might occur occasionally, but continuous popping can lead to inflammation and pain or a chronic swelling condition called bursitis. Your hips might also click because of a temporary fixation – meaning they stick together because of a temporary vacuum effect caused by the relationship of fluid, connective tissues and bone in the hip joint. The hips are not a common place to experience fixation, but if you are performing leg raises after a long session of sitting – it is possible that you might hear a few clicks as the hips loosen up and unstuck. Hips that click because of fixation will only do so once or twice and then freely function.
Your doctor may diagnose you with snapping hip syndrome if pain accompanies the clicking in your hips. Usually this occurs when the illotibial band, a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs along the side of the leg from the hip to just below the knee, snaps over the head of the femer – or thigh bone. When you perform leg raises and your hip bends, the illiotibial band moves from the back to the front of the trochanter. This movement over the protrusion of the bone creates a snapping sound. The tendon that runs from the inside of the femur to the pelvis, called the rectus femoris tendon, can also cause a clicking sound and diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome. When you perform hip raises, this tendon also moves across the front head of the thighbone, making an audible click. In some cases, torn cartilage can cause a clicking feel and sound. In this case, pain is usually prominent and might cause your hip to lock up completely.
If you are concerned about the clicking in your hip, you should visit your health-care provider. You should perform leg raises so your doctor can hear the clicking for herself and feel the movement of the tendons. You might also need X-rays or other tests to isolate the reason for your clicks.
Prevention and Treatment
If your hip clicking is because of bone friction, certain strategies can help stop the problem. Try doing leg raises with your knees bent or the legs positioned slightly apart. You may also limit your range of motion – keeping your legs a good distance from the ground when lowering them down. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that hip clicking without pain needs no treatment. If the sound itself worries you, skip the leg raises and ice the area. You might also want to reduce the amount of exercise you do that involves the hip joint -- such as cutting back on cycling and running. Your doctor might also recommend specific stretching exercises, corticosteroid injections and, in rare instances, surgery.