Hip pain can occur in people of any age group: often people associate hip pain with osteoarthritis (OA) and assume that there is nothing they can do to ease their discomfort. However, osteoarthritis of the hip is usually a condition prevalent in the older age group and more commonly it is problems such as ligament strain, tendon strain, muscle tightness, overuse and bursitis that cause hip pain in fit and active people.
Although we all will have some wear and tear in the hip joint, hip pain often comes from tight muscles on one side of the joint with weak muscles on the other. This imbalance pulls and stresses the worn hip joint in an abnormal way. If muscle imbalance is the cause of your hip pain, your pain may come on gradually with no apparent cause.
Hip joint problems may be present if you have problems with the following:
• getting up from a chair or car seat
• walking up and down stairs
• putting on trousers, underpants or shoes
• feeling a strain or a pull when walking fast
• lying on the affected side
• feeling a strain when walking up a steep slope
What to do if you have hip pain
Stop any exercise that causes pain immediately.
Compare how your painful side and your pain-free side feel when you perform stretches of your leg muscles (calf, quad and inner thigh): this can help you identify which structures are tight. To help ease muscular tension, apply heat to the area and perform gentle stretches, taking care not to stretch into pain and not to ‘bounce’ while stretching. Simply stretch slowly and gently to the point where you feel a pull.
People aged 70 years and over are more likely to have hip pain as a result of arthritis of the hip joint. However this age group can also have significant reduction in pain if they have physiotherapy that focusses on releasing the muscles that are tight around the hip and subsequent strengthening of any of the muscle groups that are weak compared to others.
It is important to settle hip problems quickly as tightness in muscles and imbalance between muscle groups leads to premature wear and tear of the hip joint over time. Premature wear and tear is what causes early onset of osteoarthritis, the inability to walk and the need to have surgery. Muscle imbalance around the hip joint can also inflame the bursa, giving rise to the condition of hip bursitis. The inflammation seen in bursitis is frequently treated with cortisone injections alone, but without fixing the muscle problems, the condition tends to recur.
If you are experiencing pain that stops you from being able to stand on one leg, you need to come and see us so that a proper diagnosis can be made and significant damage can be ruled out. Muscle tightness that persists for more than 48 hours despite the use of heat and stretching also should alert you to the need to come and see us.