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Snapping Hip

Joe Fleming provides an overview of the cause and treatment of snapping hip syndrome.

If you hear an audible snapping sound when you flex or extend your hip, you may be dealing with snapping hip syndrome, a condition symptomatic of an underlying musculoskeletal injury to the soft tissues in or around the hip. Do not miss this essential injury guide to snapping hip syndrome, also known as coxa saltans, with tips for treating and preventing it.

Anatomy of the Hip Joint

The pelvis and thigh bone join to form the hip, the largest weight-bearing joint in the body. As a ball and socket joint, the hip forms the junction at which the ball of the femur (thigh bone) coming to rest inside the deep circular sockets on either side of the pelvis, essentially connecting the legs to the rest of the body.

The joint capsule located here is known as the acetabulum; it, along with a series of muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold the joint together and provide stability to the hip and legs. Damage to any range of the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, nerves, or blood vessels in and around the hip can lead to cascading issues in the groin, knees, and legs. Read more here.

What Causes Snapping Hip Syndrome?

Often mistaken for the hip joint coming out of socket, snapping hip syndrome is actually more a result of joint damage inside the hip itself or to the muscles and tendons surrounding it.

IT Band Syndrome

One of the most common causes of snapping hip syndrome is an inflamed iliotibial band snapping over a bony prominence on the outside of the hip known as the greater trochanter. The iliotibial band, or IT band, is a wide, fibrous tendon that runs along the outside of the leg from the hip down to the knee. When it becomes irritated and inflamed from overuse, an injury known as IT band syndrome occurs.

IT band syndrome can result in both snapping hip syndrome as well as knee pain when the IT band does the same thing but over the lower part of the thigh bone.

The same tense snapping can also happen with the gluteus maximus muscle rubbing over the greater trochanter. These two instances are referred to as external snapping hip syndrome or extra-articular snapping syndrome because of how they occur on the outside of the hip.

Hip Labral Tear

The final cause of snapping hip has nothing to do with slipping muscles and tendons like the first two. Instead, intra-articular snapping hip originates on the inside of the hip joint and may be caused by torn cartilage or even loose debris in the socket.

This is the least common cause of snapping hip syndrome because it involves the very cartilage that lines the hip joint tearing, flapping down, and catching in the joint during hip movement. An injury or underlying problem like a structural abnormality with the hip joint itself is usually at work in these cases.

Symptoms of hip labral tears include a locking or catching sensation in the hip joint, stiffness, limited range of motion, and pain in the groin or hip.

Risk Factors and Complications

A variety of athletes are more prone to developing snapping hip syndrome than others including ballet dancers which is why the condition is sometimes referred to as "dancer's hip." Gymnasts, rowers, ice hockey players, golfers, short-distance runners, and soccer players may also develop it more than other athletes.

Researchers believe that excessively tight muscles may be an overarching risk factor for snapping hip syndrome, especially right after growth spurts as muscles and tendons may not lengthen as quickly as bones grow. Snapping hip syndrome is more common among adolescents though older teens and adults up to their 30's may experience it too.

On top of the snapping and popping sensation, complications of snapping hip syndrome might include:

  • Hip bursitis - inflammation and irritation in the bursa region of the hip
  • Continued snapping at the hip
  • Persistent hip pain
  • Nerve damage (sensory deficit of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve)
  • Resulting infection, i.e. in hip bursae
  • Hip flexor weakness

Diagnosing and Treating Snapping Hip Syndrome

When it comes to properly diagnosing the type of snapping hip syndrome an athlete has, a doctor will conduct several tests. A physical exam with medical history can help evaluate muscular strength and gait to gage any stability or muscle imbalance issues that may be contributing to the snapping hip.

Dynamic joint range of motion tests will also assist the diagnosis; they typically involve the athlete standing up or lying down and completing flexion, abduction, and external rotation movements. A doctor may also use imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRI's to locate the correct anatomic region where the snapping is occurring.

Conservative measures are always the first step in treating snapping hip syndrome, especially if actual symptoms other than the snapping sound are not yet present. Physical therapy that incorporates passive and active stretching can address problems with tight, short muscles that are causing the snapping hip symptoms. Everything from athletic form to posture to habitual movements will be analyzed for any improvements physical therapy might make to ensure lengthening of the muscle and an ultimate end to the snapping hip.

Where conservative measures fail, surgical intervention may be pursued. Both arthroscopic and open surgery avenues exist for treating snapping hip syndrome and they typically involve fractionally lengthening a tendon, i.e. the IT band, or releasing a part of a tendon altogether. While providing some relief of the symptoms, these types of surgeries have also been associated with resulting muscle weakness.


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2019) Snapping Hip [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article395.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. With a goal to inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.

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