Lots of people can make their hips snap or click at will—for me, it happens if I stand on one foot and lean my body forward and down.
I first noticed this phenomenon as a teenager while doing simple arabesque poses in gymnastics and dance classes. These days, I hear the familiar hip click in yoga classes, doing warrior III and standing bow-pulling poses.
That click I hear is a muscle or tendon releasing tension, a bit like a snapping rubber band. As I stand on one leg and lean over, the muscle or tendon in my standing leg grows taut as it slides over a (totally normal) bump in my femur or pelvic bone. As it passes the bump, the tension is released and I hear the snap. Doctors refer to this as snapping hip syndrome.
Luckily for me, snapping hip syndrome doesn’t cause me pain. But for some people it does. Those who experience pain when their hips pop, click, or snap usually describe the pain as developing gradually, over weeks or months.
Pain can occur if the affected muscle or tendon becomes irritated and inflamed as it rubs against the bone. The friction can trigger anything from annoying discomfort to sharp, sudden pain. Occasionally, the pain isn’t caused by an irritated muscle or tendon but by an obstruction in the hip socket itself, like a bit of torn cartilage.
Dancers, gymnasts, and other athletes who frequently use their hip-flexor muscles (muscles in the core that help us kick or bend at the waist) tend to be the most prone to painful hip snapping syndrome. For some people, this hip pain is a sign that they need to rest their bodies and/or incorporate new exercises into their workouts. For others, it may be a sign that they need to stretch more—a lot of snapping hip syndrome cases are caused by iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, which can be treated with a foam roller.
Read more: A Beginner's Guide to Foam Rolling
“Syndrome” can be a scary word, but for most people snapping hip syndrome does not need to be treated or can be easily treated with rest, stretching, and physical therapy.