Introduction 

Most cases of hip pain in adults are caused by osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the UK.

This page aims to give you a better idea of whether this, or something more unusual, may be the cause of your hip pain and what you can do about it.

However, this guide shouldn't be used as a tool to diagnose yourself – always leave that to your doctor.

Information on hip pain in children is provided elsewhere on this site.

Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary greatly from person to person, but if it affects the hip it will typically cause:

  • mild inflammation of the tissues in and around the hip joint
  • damage to cartilage – the strong, smooth surface that lines the bones
  • bony growths (osteophytes) that develop around the edge of the hip joint

This can lead to pain, stiffness and difficulty doing certain activities.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be eased with several different treatments and surgery is often not necessary.

Read more about osteoarthritis.

Less common causes

Less commonly, the cause of hip pain may be:

  • the bones of the hip rubbing together because they're abnormally shaped – a condition called femoroacetabular impingement
  • a tear in the ring of cartilage surrounding the socket of the hip joint – known as a hip labral tear
  • hip dysplasia – where the hip joint is the wrong shape or the hip socket is not in the correct position to completely cover and support the top of the leg bone
  • a hip fracture – this will cause sudden hip pain and is more common in older people with weaker bones 
  • an infection in the bone or joint, such as septic arthritis or osteomyelitis – see your GP immediately if you have hip pain and fever
  • reduced blood flow to the hip joint, causing the bone to break down – a condition known as osteonecrosis
  • inflammation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) over your hip joint – a condition called bursitis
  • a hamstring injury
  • an inflamed ligament in the thigh, often caused by too much running – known as iliotibial band syndrome, this is treated with rest (read more about sprains and strains)

The above links will take you to more information on these conditions.

When should I get help?

Many cases of hip pain will go away in time and can be managed with rest and over-the-counter painkillers.

However, see your GP if:

  • your hip is still painful after one week of resting it at home
  • you also have a fever or rash
  • your hip pain came on suddenly and you have sickle cell anaemia
  • the pain is in both hips and other joints as well 

Go straight to hospital if:

  • the hip pain was caused by a serious fall or accident
  • your leg is deformed, badly bruised or bleeding
  • you're unable to move the hip or bear any weight on your leg

How can I manage it at home?

If you don't immediately need to see a doctor, consider managing and monitoring the problem at home. The following advice may be helpful:

  • lose weight (if you're overweight) to relieve some of the strain on your hip
  • avoid activities that make the pain worse, such as running down hills 
  • wear flat shoes and avoid standing for too long
  • consider seeing a physiotherapist for some muscle-strengthening exercises
  • take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen

If it's related to overactivity:

  • always warm up before exercising and stretch afterwards 
  • try low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling instead of running 
  • cut down on the amount of exercise you do if this is excessive
  • run on a smooth, soft surface rather than concrete
  • try shoe inserts, and make sure your running shoes fit well and support your feet properly – find out more about choosing sports shoes and trainers

Questions your GP might ask

  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • When and how did the pain start?
  • Does anything make the pain worse?
  • Does anything relieve the pain?
  • Can you walk and bear weight on it?
  • Do you have any other medical problems?
  • Do you take any medicines?

How to stretch after exercising

How to stretch and cool down after a workout to warm down gradually, improve flexibility and slow your heart rate

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2014

Next review due: 03/07/2016