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Get Back in the Groove - Banish Lateral Hip Pain!

Man grabbing his hip due to lateral hip pain

 

Lateral hip pain is a very common problem that can affect people from all walks of life. Both athletes and the elderly population may experience this issue as it is also caused by a variety of things. Some of these root causes include osteoarthritis, tendinitis, or referred pain from the spine, lower back, or buttock area. 

Lateral hip pain (lateral is just a fancy word for side) seems to be common enough that we all know someone, an aunt, uncle, or grandma who experiences discomfort from this. It’s a road no one wants to go down as it can be full of diagnostic tests, doctor’s appointments prescription drugs, therapy, and even surgery. 

Whether you’re pain-free or starting to experience questionable hip soreness, you’ve come to the perfect place. Let’s check out some of the information that’s out there regarding lateral hip pain, its causes, and the process one goes through to manage pain or prevent it. 


Lateral Hip Pain: The Anatomy

Our hips’ proper functioning is what literally gets us around, but our bodies are intricate and everything is connected. Because we start moving around at such an early age, it’s pretty easy to overlook how much we rely on them and how nice it is to be pain-free. 

The hip joint is where “the acetabulum and femoral head articulate to form a spheroidal multiaxial ball-and-socket joint.” [1] In other words, this is where our large thigh bone (femur) sits in the pelvis socket (acetabulum). This particular area is skeletal tissue (ligament and cartilage) and soft connective tissue working together to make sure we can have proper joint stability and motion. 

Muscles Surrounding the Hip Joint

Muscles that can affect lateral hip pain

 

 

  • hip flexors (iliopsoas muscles)
  • extensors (gluteus maximus)
  • adductors
  • abductors (gluteus minimus and medius) 
  • external and internal rotators  (gluteus minimus and maximus) [1] 

The above section shows how the muscles surrounding the hip joint are responsible for the actual movement and therefore injury to these muscles can show up as lateral hip pain, which is referred pain. If the source of your lateral hip pain is caused by gluteal muscle injury, this is called gluteus medius syndrome

Hip Bursae

Hip bursas are essentially fluid-filled sacs in this area, serving as lubricating cushions between the bones, muscles, and tendons. Since they reduce friction and prevent irritation, it makes all the different hip movements smooth. Most people will have 6 bursae and they can also be the cause of inflammation leading to discomfort and even disability. Two common bursae are the iliopsoas bursa and trochanteric bursa. 

The hip joint can handle up to 6-8 times our body weight during jogging or walking. [1] Because of the amount of force it can experience, it is at risk for injury, especially if you’re an athlete. 


Lateral Hip Pain: the Usual Suspects

Oftentimes lateral hip pain emerges from being overworked and can be chronic. If you are an athlete, you’ll want to take care of your hips! 

Physical Assessment and Diagnostic Testing

Going to the doctor for more answers will require you to do a physical and full history. They’ll check out your mobility, stability, weakness, strength, range of motion, push on all areas, and watch you walk. They may even check your posture and movement to and from a sitting position. 

Aside from pushing (palpating) all along the joint and muscle areas, radiographic imaging may be done from all angles. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might be ordered to check the status of your soft tissues as well. 

Some Diagnoses for Lateral Hip Pain 

Hip Pointer: Injury to the iliac crest, which is typically caused by trauma resulting in injury, pain, and bruising

Greater Trochanteric Bursitis: Caused by friction from the iliotibial (IT) band, a thick band of connective tissue that reaches down from the hip to the knee. Discomfort would feel worse during external rotation and abduction of the hip. [1] 

IT Band Syndrome: The IT band plays an important role in stabilization during movement. The IT band can become inflamed or tight, also known as IT band syndrome. 

Gluteal-Related Lateral Hip Pain: Our gluteal muscles are responsible for a lot of things (such as hip abduction) and proper diagnosis is required to prevent disability. Hip pain can worsen when you lie on the related side or sit for long periods. It seems to affect everything, even walking uphill, getting in and out of cars and of course, running. [2] 

Tendon Tears: Tendinosis and tears of the gluteal muscles may present as an achy or dull soreness. Lateral hip pain typically worsens when pressure or weight is applied to this area. 

Osteoarthritis: Of all the diagnoses possible, osteoarthritis is possibly one of the most common. It is typically the first guess for the cause when it comes to elderly patients who present with long-term hip pain. 

 

Lateral Hip Pain Management

Depending on the severity of the diagnosis or injury, treatment can include different interventions. 

For conditions involving tendon tears or degeneration, management may include:

  • Avoiding activity or modified physical activity
  • Ice 
  • Stretching
  • Massage
  • Pain medications 
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Oral anti-inflammatory prescriptions [1] 

While the above methods are considered conservative, this requires accurate diagnosis and ongoing assessment. For more serious conditions, surgery may be necessary. 


How to Prevent Lateral Hip Pain

There are several tips to help prevent lateral hip pain. These can be lifestyle changes you can start doing now for overall joint pain and to reduce unnecessary stress on your hip. 

  • Strengthen your hip muscles: Keeping in mind the muscles that were listed earlier, you can make sure you include them in your fitness routine. Targeting these muscles (such as the gluteal muscles) can assist with joint stabilization and pain reduction. 
  • Stay at a healthy weight: Extra weight on your body puts extra stress on your hips. Minimizing weight gain through exercise and diet can help you stay within range for a healthy body mass index. 
  • Routine stretching: a good stretch routine can keep you limber and flexible, increasing your range of motion and also helping prevent injury. Read more on why does stretching feel good
    • Massage sessions: this can help with circulation, flexibility, and range of motion. Overall, relaxed muscles are at lower risk for injury
    • QL Claw: more on the QL Claw below, but as a deep tissue massage tool, it can help release muscles and prevent pain! 
  • Proper warm-up before exercise: A light warm-up and hip stretches can help you as the same bullet point above regarding stretching.
  • Proper footwear: If you do a lot of running or walking, shoes that fit properly and provide support can help prevent lower-body and foot pain. 
  • Avoid overuse: Remember where you are in your fitness journey and know how much your body can handle. Taking breaks and trying variations can help with making sure you don’t become too repetitive when you don’t need to be. 
  • Correct posture and ergonomics: Chronically bad posture even just sitting down or doing mundane daily activity can cause hip pain. Try to stay aware of any hunched or curved posture.
  • Consulting a professional when necessary: Know that when your pain hasn’t budged, see a professional! You may need further assessment, guidance, or pain management. 

Easy Hip-Strengthening Exercises

As long as you don’t have any underlying health conditions to prevent you from exercising, try these out to easily work some hip muscles. These are considered doable for beginners and for those who are already having some hip pain;  only continue mobility exercises as tolerated. 

Hip bridge exercise can help with lateral hip pain

Hip bridges

  • Lie down on your back on the floor or bed, knees bent
  • With control, push your hips upward. You may use your arms to keep balance. 
  • Hold the top position for a few seconds
  • Slowly lower back down
  • If you have no pain, try for 8 repetitions (or more) and repeat for 2-3 sets. This can be done with or without resistance/weights.

Standing Hip Extension

  • Stand straight with a chair in front for support if needed
  • Balancing on one leg, lift the other leg, and swing behind you. 
  • Hold your leg in this position for a few seconds
  • Return to starting position.
  • Same as above for repetitions and sets. [3]

If you find you’re physically advanced and without pain, below are more rigorous exercises and variations you can try

  • Bulgarian split squat 
  • Single-leg squat
  • Elevated glute bridge (with bands for added resistance)
  • Side leg raises (with bands)
  • Dumbell sumo squat
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts  

The following are considered joint-friendly exercise machines and activities [4]

Can you detect a trend here? Less stress put on your hip joints while maintaining mobility are considered hip-friendly maneuvers. There is a huge amount of information out there whether on fitness sites or YouTube that you can refer to for even more exercises and stretches. If you’re just starting out and have no equipment or gym membership, you can do most of them at home. The possibilities are truly endless. 

Stretches for the Hip

The standing quadriceps stretch is that typical stretch you see runners do at a stoplight. Standing with feet together, bend one knee, grab the foot of that leg, and pull it towards your buttocks. You’ll feel the stretch in the quads of that leg. Hold the position for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

The pretzel stretch looks just what it sounds like. I’ll let Harvard Health do the explaining here, “Lie on your back with your left knee bent and the left foot on the floor. Rest your right ankle on your left leg near your left knee. Your right knee should point to the side. Grasp the back of your left thigh with both hands and slowly pull it toward you until you feel a stretch in your right hip and buttock. Hold a few moments, then repeat the exercise with the opposite leg.” [4] 

A variation of the pretzel stretch can also be done sitting down as the seated piriformis stretch

As stated earlier, muscle pain can also manifest as referred pain (pain that shows up in other areas) and lateral hip pain is not the exception. Especially if it’s a gluteal muscle, you can use the QL Claw as your personal deep-tissue massage tool and nip any potential hip pain in the bud. 

Hip flexor muscles can get tight from prolonged sitting and the QL Claw can help release the iliacus and psoas muscles. Keep your muscles here nice and loose, releasing any built-up tension! 

Check out the video below to see how you can use this awesome tool for low back and hip pain relief!

 


Lateral Hip Pain: Conclusion

As with most pain conditions, chronic or not, the more you know the better. Most importantly, listen to your body, and don’t push yourself! Pain is not meant to be ignored and reading this page is definitely a good start. Prevent any further exacerbation and modify where necessary. 

Let's hope you never need to turn to prescription or surgery if you can incorporate all these activities into your daily routine. But as with most lifestyle changes, don’t set yourself up for failure and commit to too may changes at once. 

The founder of the QL Claw, Ben, ensured that a product was available that you could use to keep your muscles in top (massaged) shape. He walked down a long road of 4 years of back pain so you don’t have to (even if yours may be hip pain). 

As a nurse turned blog writer, the best advice I feel I can give anyone enduring any discomfort is to give your body time to heal. At the risk of sounding too wishy-washy, I always say everyone really is different in their fitness, pain, and healing journey. We’re here to empower you by sharing the best resources we’ve come across, but it’s up to you to use them! 



Sources:

[1] Grumet, R.C., Frank, R.M., Slabaugh, M.A., Virkus, W., Bush-Joseph, C., Nho, S. Lateral hip pain in an athletic population. Sports Health, 2010. 

[2] Bohn, M., Lund, B., Spoorendonk, K., Lange, J. Gluteal-related lateral hip pain. Danish Medical Journal, 2021. 

[3] Exercises for hip problems. www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/exercises/exercises-for-hip-problems/

[4] Godman, H., The best types of exercises when you have hip or knee pain. www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/the-best-types-of-exercise-when-you-have-hip-or-knee-pain

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