What you need to know about hip pain

KTB chartered physiotherapist, Tomasz Tym, explains the many causes of hip pain as well as symptoms and treatments:

What causes hip pain?

Hip pain is something I often treat in the clinic and it can affect young and old alike.

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. The top of the femur, or thigh bone, is the ‘ball’ which sits in the socket-shaped acetabulum – the hip bone. Although hard-wearing, because it bears so much weight and has a wide range of motion, it is susceptible to damage.

A common cause is overload to the surrounding soft tissues. Contributory factors can include a sedentary lifestyle due to long periods of sitting or standing. Jobs involving heavy lifting or frequently repeated movements leading to repetitive strain can also be to blame.

That’s not to say active people and even athletes can’t be affected too. Old injuries, or a sudden increase or change in training can all overload joints or cause one part of the body to overcompensate.

The hip can also be affected by referred pain – when pain is experienced in a part of the body other than its true origin. Referred hip pain may originate in the lower back, groin, abdomen, pelvic floor or internal organs.

As we age, ‘wear-and-tear’ such as osteoarthritis, inflammatory or autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can mean daily activities, such as walking, are extremely painful.

What are the warning signs to look out for?

Hip problems typically cause pain deep in the hip joint, groin, inside thigh muscles and outer side of the hip, but can also refer pain to the pelvis, thigh and knee joint.

Warning symptoms include:

  • dull or sharp pain with running, jumping, walking or standing
  • limping, popping, clicking and catching with hip movements
  • pain on rising from a low chair
  • discomfort when driving
  • difficulty getting in and out of a car
  • aggravated pain or stiffness when lying on the affected side

It’s important to contact a specialist if you have any concerns or pain that doesn’t improve within 6 months, to rule out rare but potentially serious causes like cancer, osteoarthritis, fracture or hereditary problems such as dysplasia.

How can hip pain be treated?

The good news is that in most cases, physiotherapy can help with diagnosis and treatment.

If identified in the early stages, simple exercises and lifestyle changes can be all that’s needed to relieve pain and prevent further damage. Just a few physiotherapy sessions can make a big difference and break the vicious circle of pain-inactivity-muscle weakness.

A quick fix isn’t always an option, but a treatment plan involving soft tissue mobilisation, manual techniques and a combination of one-to-one and home exercises can help get you back on track.

In more complex cases, physiotherapy can help manage your condition, improve your quality of life and delay the need for surgical treatment.

Is physio still necessary after a hip replacement?


A hip replacement can be life-changing, vastly improving mobility and pain reduction. However, balance and control may be challenging post-surgery.

Muscle weakness sustained before the surgery combined with a partial loss of deep sensation due to the artificial joint can leave patients feeling unsteady and vulnerable to falls.  Many lose confidence, fear going outside and are reluctant to return to hobbies or sports preventing them enjoying the full potential of the new joint.

The human nervous system is very adaptive. With adequate physiotherapy, the brain can be ‘reprogrammed’ to feel and control the body using receptors from surrounding soft tissues and other joints instead.  This part of post-operative rehabilitation is crucial to regain strength, balance and good coordination.

Look after your hips and they’ll look after you!

It’s hard to overstate how important hips are to the body. They bear weight, provide stability, movement and transfer power. Even minor injury can be hugely debilitating.

Following these simple rules can help protect not only your hips but all the joints in the body:

  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid unnecessary strain.
  • Take regular exercise to help build strong, flexible muscles that support the hips and prevent wear and tear.
  • Eat a diet rich in omega 3 oils found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel to help keep joints lubricated. Vitamin E in foods such as avocado, nuts and sunflower seeds also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Most importantly, listen to your body and never hesitate to see a physiotherapist or GP at the first signs of pain or discomfort.