The Most Effective Treatment Options for Hip Pain
Hip pain is a common structural issue faced by millions of people across the globe.
Although it is particularly common in elderly people and those engaged in regular, strenuous exercise, it can also be an issue for the everyday person – soccer mom’s, office workers and weekend warriors alike.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the most common forms and causes of hip pain, and the most effective treatment options available to you.
Let’s dig in.
Types of Hip Pain
Hip pain is a pretty broad term, as it can manifest in many different ways depending on the type of injury, or the underlying cause.
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As stated over on the eMedicine site:
“Hip pain is often difficult to describe, and patients may complain that the hip just hurts. The location, description, intensity of pain, what makes it better, and what makes it worse depend upon what structure is involved and the exact cause of the inflammation and injury. Pain from the hip joint may be felt anteriorly (in front of the hip) as groin pain, laterally over the greater trochanter, or posteriorly in the buttock. Sometimes the patient may complain of knee pain that has been referred from the hip”.
In short, hip pain can vary in intensity, location and duration depending on a number of different factors.
In this article, although we’ll talk a little bit about the serious, acute hip injuries (such as a fracture or dislocation) the main focus will be dealing with conditions that are more low level and chronic.
Hip Pain Causes
So what is it exactly that’s causing your hip to hurt? There are a number of different possibilities, including:
Upstream issues in back or neck, or even downstream issues with the knees or ankles can cause misalignment in the hip joint.
Poor posture, or a subluxation of a join in the spine for example can cause the pelvis to shift a certain way, which may affect how the leg inserts into the hip joint. If the head of the femur bone is not sitting correctly in the socket, this can cause impingement and put an added strain on the tendons and ligaments within the joint. Over time, the misalignment may even wear down the cartilage that usually prevents bones from rubbing together.
As well as upstream and downstream injuries, simply having tight tissues around the joint can also lead to similar symptoms. Just like a tight hinge on a door causes the door to rub against the doorframe, inflexible muscles surrounding the hip can cause structures in the joint that normally wouldn’t touch to rub against each other, causing pain and degeneration.
A basic view of the hip joint, from WebMD
If you add to this misalignment years and years of repetitive motions at the hip, such as running, squatting, kicking, or sitting, this can exacerbate the negative impact on the tissues and structures within the hip joint, accelerating the degenerative process.
Although faulty movement patterns are sometimes related to muscular imbalances, they can also occur simply due to learning the incorrect technique in the first place.
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Pain in the hip can also result from an underlying inflammatory condition such as arthritis, which can affect any joint in the body. As explained by the NHS, the common symptoms associated with arthritis include:
- mild inflammation of the tissues in and around the hip joint
- damage to cartilage – the strong, smooth surface that lines the bones
- bony growths (osteophytes) that develop around the edge of the hip joint
Less commonly, pain can be caused by underlying structural issues such as hip dysplasia (where the hip capsule is abnormally shaped) or femoroacetabular impingement (where the head of the femur bone is abnormally shaped, causing friction in the joint).
Whilst some of the treatment options that follow later in the article may benefit someone with an underlying condition, it is important to consult a medical professional to determine the underlying cause before pursuing any self-treatment options.
Hip pain can also result from an acute injury such as a fall or strain.
One of the leading causes of hip pain from an acute injury is a hip fracture. Hip fractures are most common in elderly people, particularly women. They can be life threatening, and require immediate treatment by a medical professional.
Other less severe injuries that can affect the hip may include a ligament strain, a hamstring strain, iliotibial band syndrome and even a back injury.
General Guidelines for Hip Health
If your hip pain has occurred suddenly after a fall or accident, the first course of action should always be to consult a medical professional for immediate help. A fracture of the hip joint can lead to serious complications, and significantly increase the mortality rate within the next year within older populations.
With regards to chronic hip pain, as with most other ailments, prevention is the best cure. Avoiding the hip pain in the first place is obviously better than attempting to treat it. There are a few ways in which you can minimise your risk of it cropping up:
- Learn how to fall - Countries like Japan and India (where they traditionally squat down to the floor to eat, and to go to the toilet) have the lowest incidences of hip fractures. Although other factors may play a role, the fact that people are used to getting up and down from the floor several times a day may mean that they are less likely to fall, and are able to handle falls more gracefully.
- Practice balancing exercises - Simple exercises such as standing on one leg, or specific yoga poses can help to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling in the first place.
- Stand with good posture - Standing with your pelvis tilted and head wrenched forward puts an unnecessary strain on your back and can lead to issues with the hip joint, as can excessive sitting. Always aim to maintain a good posture whenever you’re standing, and minimise the amount of time spent sitting.
- Eat healthily - Nutrition is a notoriously-complicated subject, with plenty of contradictions to go around. We do know however that certain foods are known to promote inflammation and joint pain, whereas others have the opposite effect, reducing pain and inflammation. As a general rule, make sure you’re consuming plenty of whole, plant foods and lots of water.
Hip Pain Treatment Options
There are a number of different treatment options available to you if you do develop acute or chronic hip pain. They can largely be grouped into two main categories – those that deal with the underling condition, and those that help to reduce pain and inflammation.
1. Fixing the Underlying Issue
As mentioned above, in many cases prevention is the best cure. Rather than just looking at how we can control the symptoms, it is probably more beneficial long term to address the underlying cause of the issue. Here are a few ways you can do that:
2. Physical Therapy
If your hip pain is related to a muscular or structural imbalance, a visit to a trained physical therapist, chiropractor or osteopath should be high on your priority list.
They will perform specific adjustments to the spine or pelvis, along with deep tissue work to ensure that everything is in its proper place. They may also prescribe certain exercises to free up any tight spots and help keep the joint in a stable position.
Therapists can range in experience and skill, so do your research before committing yourself and spending your money. Ensure that the practitioner is experienced at treating your issue and has a clear treatment plan before proceeding.
3. Mobility Exercises
You should always prioritise the exercises prescribed to you by a medical professional, however here are a few others that may not get mentioned that can also help to loosen up the hip joint and clear out any impingement.
Here are just a few useful resources to check out:
- The guys at Prevention share 10 exercises to relive tight hips.
- Kelly Starrett at Mobility WOD shares the couch stretch and ways to loosen up tight hips.
- Everyday Health have ten more ways to help relieve daily hip pain.
- Last but not least, the Beach Body Blog share 9 yoga stretches to help relive hip and lower back pain.
As a general rule of thumb we want to avoid surgery unless it is necessary, but in some cases it may in fact be the best option.
If a hip fracture needs to be set, a bone spur need to be filed down, or a ligament needs to be pieced back together - no amount of stretching and adjusting of the hip will lead to long term (or short term) relief.
Again, consult a medical professional to determine the severity of the issue, and the right course of treatment for you.
Attempting to fix the underlying cause is likely the best course of action for long-term stability, but often, short-term relief from pain is also necessary to improve the patients quality of life and allow them to complete the necessary rehab exercises.
This can be achieved via a number of methods, each with their positives and drawbacks.
1. Shock Wave Therapy
Although it may sound a little bizzare, shock wave therapy may be one of the best up and coming ways to treat hip pain and accelerate healing.
If a tendon or ligament is damaged and inflamed, passing acoustic shockwaves through the damaged tissue seems to aid the regeneration process (although the exact mechanism behind it isn’t fully understood yet).
Nonetheless, a 2012 study showed that the treatment provided long-term relief to sufferers of osteonecrosis (degeneration form a lack of bloodflow) of the femoral head – significantly more so than other techniques such as decompression and bone grafting.
2. RICE - The classic rice protocol is quite effective for low-level strains or sprains in or around the hip joint, particularly during the first 72 hours after the injury has occurred. The acronym stands for:
- Rest – avoid aggravating the issue further by limiting motion in the early stages. Return to light movement as soon as possible.
- Ice – apply ice to the injured area to aid in the inflammatory process and accelerate healing.
- Compression – if possible, apply compression to the area, again to accelerate the healing process and reduce swelling.
- Elevate – elevating the injury above the heart can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation.
3. Pain Killers
In some cases, pain killers and Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medications are prescribed or sought after to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Although they may help to do just that, they also come with a range of potential side effects, including gut issues, heart risks and headaches just to name a few.
It is important to weight up the pros and cons before deciding to take any medications, and consider any alternatives. These might include…
4. Anti inflammatory Foods and Herbs
The topic of anti-inflammatory foods and herbs is one that we’ve been over many times here on the Eu Natural blog.
As well as consuming a healthy, plant-heavy diet, you can also include specific herbs and supplements into your diet to reduce inflammation and pain even further. Some of the most effective include:
- Turmeric – the popular Indian yellow spice is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods on the planet, and has been shown to be as powerful as NSAIDs in reducing pain and inflammation, without any of the negative side effects.
- Peppermint – has anti-inflammatory properties, and also offers a calming and numbing effect.
- Garlic – contains the compound allicin, which is thought to shut off pathways that typically lead to inflammation.
- Boswellia – also known as Indian Frankincense, the extract from the boswellia serrata plant has been shown to significantly soothe joint pain and inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes from activating in the body.
- Basil – like turmeric, basil has been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs in bringing down inflammation, and it is also great for reducing swelling in the joint.
For more options, check out the link posted above to one of our previous articles. It should be noted that although these herbs and spices can aid in reducing inflammation, they are only really effective when combined with a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Have you ever had to deal with hip pain? If so, what are some of the most effective treatment options that you have utilized?