It is common to hear a pop, click, or snap in the hip joint during certain movements, a condition called snapping hip syndrome. The snapping sensation is most commonly caused by a hip tendon or muscle sliding over bone—the tendon or muscle stretches taut as it is pulled over a bony protrusion and then snaps loose when tension releases.

Experts estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the population has snapping hips with no other symptoms or pain, and no treatment is necessary.1 However, for a small number of people, hip snapping is not only annoying but can also accompanied by pain and requires treatment.

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How Does Hip Snapping or Hip Popping Cause Pain?

People with snapping hip syndrome most commonly feel pain if:

  • The snapping muscle or tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. During snapping, the muscle or tendon is uncomfortably stretched and strained as it pulls over a bony protrusion and then snaps as the tension is released. Done repeatedly over time, this process can lead to muscle or tendon irritation, damage, and pain.
  • The snapping leads to painful hip bursitis. The snapping tendon or muscle can irritate a nearby bursa, a lubricating, fluid-filled structure that normally reduces friction between bone and soft tissue. This irritation can cause a bursa to become inflamed, a condition called hip bursitis.

For some people, both the snapping sensation and hip bursitis lead to painful symptoms.

Who Is at Risk for Hip Snapping Syndrome?

Snapping hip syndrome can affect anyone, but certain people are at higher risk:

  • Athletes who regularly utilize their hips’ extreme ranges of motion, such as dancers, soccer players, and people who practice martial arts (e.g. karate).
  • Young people who experience growth spurts can experience extra stain on muscles and tendons.
  • People who have had certain hip or knee surgeries.
  • People whom have had a drastic increase in their activity levels in a short period of time.

A person with snapping hip syndrome can usually snap a hip at will. He or she can make a hip snap with a particular movement, such as standing up from a seated position, walking, kicking, or rotating a leg out.

Different Types of Hip-Snapping Syndrome

There are three types of snapping hip syndrome:

  1. Internal snapping hip, which causes snapping at the groin area
  2. See Groin Strain and Injury

  3. External snapping hip, which causes snapping at the outside of the hip
  4. Intra-articular snapping hip, which causes snapping within the hip joint itself

Intra-articular snapping hip differs from external and internal snapping hip; it is not caused by a tendon, muscle or bursa, but by a mechanical impediment in the hip joint. Intra-articular snapping hip is often accompanied by a reduction in range of motion.

Knowing which type of hip snapping syndrome an athlete has will help guide the treatment plan.

References:

  1. Byrd JW. Snapping Hip. Oper Tech Sports Med. 2005;13:46-54. As cited in Lewis CL. Extra-articular Snapping Hip: A Literature Review. Sports Health. 2010;2(3):186-190. doi:10.1177/1941738109357298.
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