What is snapping hip syndrome?

Snapping hip syndrome is a medical condition characterised by a snapping or popping sensation as the hip is bent up or straightened.

How does it occur?

It occurs when tendons have become thickened (often due to exercise) and they catch over a bony prominence in the hip. This occurs at the level of the greater trochanter which is the bony prominence that you feel on the outside of the hip joint.

Who gets snapping hip syndrome?

Athletes, distance runners, ballet dancers, gymnasts, horse riders and military personal are at risk, but anyone performing repetitive movements that have thickened their tendons can develop this. It is most common in 15-40 year olds.

What symptoms would I have?

The most common symptoms patients report are of hip pain and of a clicking or ‘catching’ sensation on the outside of the hip joint. It can be painless, in which case, it is unlikely to need any treatment.

How would it be diagnosed?

During your orthopaedic consultation, history and examination findings would help with the diagnosis. Imaging techniques including ultrasound scanning of the tendons in motion and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would be used to assess the hip and also to identify other hip problems. However, it is a clinical diagnosis based on  accurate history and examination.

How is it treated?

Physiotherapy is used to stretch the tight muscles that are catching and causing the sensations. This is the mainstay of treatment and physiotherapy will frequently involve examination of your running technique and modification of this. Orthotics may also be used to correct any mal-alignments in the feet.

Hip injections (under local or general anaesthetic) can be used for diagnostic and therapeutic reasons. Surgical treatment is rarely necessary unless hip pathology is present. In patients with persistent pain, surgical release of the contracted tendon can be performed and this is usually done through key hole (arthroscopic) incisions.

When would I get back to normal?

Most people continue their normal daily activities despite the snapping hip, and will see improvement with physiotherapy over 6-8 weeks. If surgery has been performed, patients will usually undergo extensive physical therapy and regaining full strength can take up to 9–12 months.

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