Hip joints are very flexible and have a wide range of motion. While this makes your hip joints advantageous for many types of movement, it also leaves them susceptible to injury.
Running can take a toll on the ball-and-socket joint that makes up the hip. Every step taken while running puts pressure on the hip, and over time, this can cause wear and tear damage to one of the strongest joints in the body: the hip.
Hip pain and injury can be prevented or reduced with the right habits and preparation. Here’s a look at some of the primary causes of hip pain runners and other athletes experience and a few tips to help prevent further damage.
Causes of Hip Pain
A variety of injuries can cause hip pain in runners. They include:
- • Hamstring injuries: The hamstrings are three muscles that run down the back of the thigh, and work together as knee flexors. Hamstrings become injured when muscle fibers tear—in some cases a tear can be minor, described as a strain, but in others, a complete tear can occur. In the majority of cases, injuries to the hamstring are felt in the back of the leg, especially when flexing the knee. But if the muscle tear is higher up in the leg, the pain might appear in the hip joint.
- • Piriformis syndrome: Another muscle in the leg is known as the piriformis, which runs from the sacrum to the outside of the hip. The piriformis can become easily inflamed or aggravated through overuse, and the pressure it causes on the sciatic nerve can lead to severe pain the hip area. Stretching exercises are usually very beneficial to alleviate pain caused by piriformis syndrome.
- • Groin pulls or tears: The legs are pulled together at the groin by muscles called hip adductors, which attach to the thighs and stabilize the joint. These muscles can strain if they’re stretched too far or used too much, or they can tear completely in more severe cases. Diagnosing a pulled groin can be tough—many other hip problems are accompanied by groin pain, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between a groin pull and other possible problems.
- • Stress fracture: Another injury caused primarily by overuse, stress fractures are often found in the lower body. If too much pressure absorbed in the muscles and joints is transferred to the underlying bones, which are not meant to support that kind of pressure, a stress fracture can occur. Stress fractures tend to progress over time and can cause dull pain.
- • Labral tear: The ball-and-socket has a soft support structure called the labrum—a cartilage ring that lubricates the ball of the femur. The labrum can tear due to overuse and bone abnormalities, and this can be a factor contributing to early arthritis. Labrum tears are often difficult to diagnose, and may not show symptoms until well after damage has already occurred.
- • Hip bursitis: Another lubricating element of the hips are the bursae, sacs that help maintain fluidity of movement. Repetitive trauma, common in long-distance runners, can cause pain and inflammation of the bursae.
- • Iliopsoas syndrome: When the knee contracts, the iliopsoas muscle is the hip flexor that helps pull it up. This is another area that can become inflamed—often as a result of increasing amount or intensity of an activity too quickly—and cause hip pain.
Preventing Hip Damage
There are several preventive measures you can take to help avoid hip injuries:
Foods that help give bones the nutrients and strength they need can be very helpful for supporting overall movement. Calcium and vitamin D are key to strong, healthy bones. Foods high in calcium include cheese, milk, dark green vegetables and yogurt. Things like eggs, cereal and fatty fish have lots of vitamin D.
Performing at least 150 minutes of moderate weight-bearing exercise per week can be highly beneficial to joint health. These exercises can include walking or jogging, dancing and lifting weights. The occasional resistance exercises are also recommended. Exercise programs will be different for everyone, but some common exercises for hip strength include:
Proper warm-up and cool-down is important, especially if you are trying new workouts or haven’t exercised in a while. If you’re wondering about a specific exercise program that’s right for you, speak to your doctor.
Alcohol and Smoking:
For men, no more than two alcoholic beverages per day are recommended, and only one drink per day for women. High alcohol intake can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Smoking should be avoided completely—like excess alcohol consumption, smoking can cause osteoporosis as well, but it can also damage the body’s ability to heal hip or other injuries as smoking limits blood supply.
If you’re concerned about hip pain speak to your doctor. He or she will help you come up with a treatment and prevention plan that will work best for your condition.
Brady Barker, MD
I received an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from Brigham Young University and thereafter attended the Medical College of Wisconsin. I find satisfaction in the process of putting broken people back together and relieving them of pain. Helping patients recover and enjoy life again is a gratifying experience for me in my profession. My approach to patient interaction is to consider each individual’s case, treat him or her individually and maintain open communication.
“Hip Problems, Age 12 and Older – Prevention.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/hip-problems-age-12-and-older-prevention
“7 Injuries That Could Be Causing Your Hip Pain.” Competitor.com. http://running.competitor.com/2016/03/injury-prevention/7-injuries-that-could-be-causing-your-hip-pain_146473