Snapping hip syndrome (SHS), also known as dancer’s hip, is a hip condition that causes a snapping noise or sensation in the hip joint. People with SHS may notice this “snapping” when they get up from an armchair, climb steps, or walk around the block. Read on to learn more about identifying and treating snapping hip syndrome.
The medical name for snapping hip syndrome is coxa saltans. In addition to a snapping noise, SHS can sometimes cause pain, inflammation, and reduced flexibility in the hip.
The hip joint is one of the body's largest weight-bearing joints. It is a ball-and-socket joint that consists of two parts—the rounded end of the thigh bone and a cup-shaped socket in the pelvis. Various muscles, tendons, and ligaments surround the hip, while a thin membrane called synovium helps lubricate the joint.
Inflamed or damaged muscles or tendons can impact on the hip’s function and lead to snapping hip syndrome. Similarly, damage inside the joint can cause hip problems.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Causes
Snapping hip occurs due to tendons or muscles sliding over bone, or actual damage to the hip joint. The underlying cause depends on the type of snapping hip you have.
External Snapping Hip Syndrome
External SHS occurs when the gluteus maximus muscle or the iliotibial band (IT band) slips over bone (the greater trochanter) at the top of the thighbone. This slipping action causes tension, followed by a snapping release. External snapping hip suggests that the IT band or gluteus maximus is too tight. If you have external SHS, you will notice symptoms at the outside of your hip.
Internal Snapping Hip Syndrome
Internal SHS occurs when the iliopsoas tendon or the quadricep muscle slides over bones at the front of the hip joint. Again, this action causes tension that leads to a snapping release.
Both the iliopsoas tendon and quadriceps muscle are referred to as hip flexors. People with internal SHS primarily experience symptoms around the hip flexors, which are located at the front of the hip.
Intra-articular Snapping Hip Syndrome
Unlike internal and external SHS, intra-articular snapping does not involve slipping tendons or muscles. Instead, it results from an injury or problem in the hip joint. Intra-articular SHS may be caused by a tear in the cartilage that lines the hip socket or debris within the socket.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Symptoms
Snapping hip syndrome is so-called because it causes a snapping or clicking sound when flexing the hip. People with snapping hip syndrome may also experience:
Sharp pain around the hip joint
Swelling at the joint
Difficulty running, climbing stairs, or carrying heavy loads
The feeling that the hip may pop out of place
Weakness in the leg muscles
For people with snapping hip syndrome, groin pain is a common complaint, especially when the injury is classed as internal or intra-articular. There may also be a connection between snapping hip syndrome and lower back pain as the iliopsoas muscle is linked to both lower back and hip injuries.
These symptoms can come on gradually over several weeks or months. The pain and inflammation may get more intense after long periods of activity.
Your doctor will diagnose snapping hip syndrome based on your medical history and a physical examination.
They may ask you questions like:
What part of the hip hurts?
What activities worsen the pain and inflammation?
Do you have a history of hip injuries?
To confirm a diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome, your doctor may also carry out one or both of the following:
Snapping Hip Syndrome Test
This test allows a doctor to hear the popping sound when they move your leg into various positions. Your doctor will place your injured hip into the flexion, abduction, and external rotation (FABER) position before moving it into an extended, adducted, and internally rotated one. If SHS is present, your hip will make the snapping sound.
Snapping Hip Syndrome MRI Scan or X-Ray
An MRI scan or X-ray, or both, may be ordered to more accurately diagnose snapping hip. X-ray images allow the doctor to see the bones and joints, while an MRI scan shows soft tissues. These imaging tests can be used to rule out other hip conditions including arthritis, synovitis, or tumors.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Treatment
Often, snapping hip syndrome is painless and doesn’t require treatment. But when it causes discomfort and swelling, the following snapping hip syndrome cures should be considered:
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Regularly applying an ice pack to the hip can bring down pain and swelling. Ice therapy can be used as often as required until symptoms subside.
In the initial days after injury, you may need to rest your hip and avoid movements that cause discomfort. Rest allows the muscles and tendons time to heal.
Braces and Supports
Hip and groin wraps offer targeted support that is ideal for snapping hip syndrome. ( See Product on Amazon )
Using a hip and groin wrap can provide gentle compression to the affected area. Compression improves blood flow and helps damaged tissues to heal faster. If you have external snapping hip syndrome, you may need to support and stabilize your iliotibial band using an IT Band Strap.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Exercises
Strengthen and lengthen the muscles around the hip using snapping hip syndrome stretches. The following exercises relieve symptoms and prevent future hip injuries:
Iliotibial Band Stretch
To stretch your IT band, stand up straight. Cross the leg of the unaffected hip in front of the leg with the injured hip. Lean outward in the direction of the uninjured hip until you feel a stretch in the injured hip. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat three times a day.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel on the injured leg, placing the other leg in front. Keep your back straight. Push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the upper thigh and hip of the affected leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times a day. As your recovery progresses, you can begin to try variations of this stretch. This exercise can also be used to prevent and recover from hip flexor strain.
Lie flat on the floor and raise the affected leg until it is perpendicular to your body. Slowly pull the raised leg toward your body. You should feel tension in the back of this thigh. Hold this position for 30 seconds before resting. Repeat three times. Some people find this exercise easier when using resistance bands.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Exercises to Avoid
As well as engaging in helpful exercises for your hip, you should also avoid certain activities that can exacerbate your pain and swelling. Activities that require repetitive hip flexion (raising the hip or leg toward the chest) can be problematic for people with snapping hip syndrome. Limit or avoid the following:
Other activities can be modified to reduce hip strain. For example, you can take smaller steps when walking and swim using only your arms.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Physical Therapy
Working with a physical therapist can speed up recovery from snapping hip syndrome. Your therapist can devise a tailor-made exercise plan to increase flexibility and range of motion in the hip joint while also reducing pain and inflammation.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Chiropractic Treatment
Those with moderate to severe hip pain may benefit from chiropractic care. A chiropractor can manipulate the joint to reduce symptoms and increase your range of motion. Chiropractic treatment typically works best when used in conjunction with exercises and physical therapy.
For quick relief from pain and swelling, your doctor may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are available over the counter, while stronger versions are available by prescription. Keep track of your medications in a handy pill organizer. Alternatively, you may be given a corticosteroid injection into the hip to reduce inflammation.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Surgery
In rare cases, it may be necessary to undergo surgical treatment for snapping hip syndrome. Some people need a procedure to lengthen either the iliotibial band or the iliopsoas tendon. Others, especially those with intra-articular SHS, undergo surgery to remove debris from the hip joint cavity. Regardless of the type of surgery they have, most people need to use crutches for a few weeks afterward.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Recovery Time
Many people wonder “will snapping hip syndrome go away?” In truth, the outlook depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause.
Most cases are harmless and many are asymptomatic, but they can increase the risk of future damage to the joint. Those who experience pain and inflammation can recover quicker if they see a doctor and follow a treatment program.
For people who undergo snapping hip syndrome surgery, recovery time varies and requires several weeks of physical therapy. With proper treatment, most people will experience complete relief from pain after three to six months.
Enjoy Relief from Symptoms of Snapping Hip Syndrome
Snapping hip syndrome is a potentially painful and annoying condition. Left untreated, it can cause joint damage. If you experience the symptoms of snapping hip syndrome, see a doctor for a diagnosis. You can manage mild symptoms and cure the condition at home using ice packs, braces and supports, and exercises. More severe cases often require medication and surgery in conjunction with home remedies.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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