Snapping Hip Syndrome

Snapping hip syndrome occurs when the hip is flexed and extended. A snapping sensation and audible 'popping' noise often occur. There are many causes for this syndrome usually due to tendons catching on bony prominences and "snapping" with hip movement.

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Causes

  • hip labral tear: If there is a loose flap of cartilage catching within the joint, this may cause a snapping sensation when the hip is moved. This cause of snapping hip syndrome may cause unsteadiness or weakness resulting in patients reaching for support when the hip snaps. It is the least common of the three causes listed.
  • iliotibial band snap: The iliotibial band is a thick tendon over the outside of the hip joint. When the iliotibial band (IT band) snaps over the greater trochanter (the bony prominence over the outside of the hip joint), a snap occurs. This is the most common cause of the three listed.
  • iliopsoas tendon snap: The iliopsoas tendon is the most important hip flexor muscle. It passes just in front of the hip joint. The iliopsoas tendon can catch on a bony prominence of the pelvis and cause a snap when the hip is flexed.

Testing

An x-ray is usually taken to search for bony problems near the hip joint. However, x-rays are usually normal with snapping hip syndrome. If a tear of the cartilage within the hip joint is suspected, an MRI may be ordered.

Treatment

A short course of anti-inflammatory medications or a low dose cortisone injection will help control inflammation if this is contributing to the syndrome. Physical therapy to stretches out the muscles and tendons that cause a snapping hip and assist in preventing or resolving the problem.

Surgery is reserved for patients with severe symptoms for long periods of time and who have failed non-operative treatments. Surgery to relax the tendons, or remove the cartilage tear may be beneficial.

Jose Veliz MD is the medical director of Palomar Spine & Pain, in Escondido, CA (North San Diego County).

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