If your hips are causing you pain, a chiropractor may be able to help, but it’s not the right treatment for everyone. Here’s what to know before you book an appointment.

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Your hips support everyday activities like walking, stair-climbing, and sitting — so keeping them feeling good is critical to your quality of life. When something’s not right in your hips, you’ll probably notice it quickly.

Hip pain can range from merely annoying to absolutely excruciating. Whether you’ve noticed an occasional twinge or are experiencing discomfort with every step, it’s best to get it checked out.

One treatment option for hip pain is chiropractic care. Many people have success with this form of treatment — but if you’ve never visited a chiropractor, you may have concerns about what the experience will look like (and whether it will ultimately relieve your pain).

Here’s what you need to know about chiropractic care for hips.

Chiropractors base their methods of care on the principles of skeletal adjustment. By adjusting the bones and joints back into proper alignment — either manually or with the help of various technologies — practitioners aim to restore healthy function.

Though chiropractors are not medical doctors, they are licensed practitioners who must pass a national board exam. Before this exam, they must also receive a doctor of chiropractic degree (D.C.), which involves 3-4 years of graduate-level study.

Chiropractic care is considered alternative medicine, so you may find chiropractors practicing alongside naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. They may also work with physical therapists (or have a stand-alone practice).

Different chiropractors may specialize in treating different hip conditions. In general, though, you can schedule an appointment with a chiropractor if you’re experiencing:

  • osteoarthritis of the hips
  • hip dysplasia
  • hip injury or trauma
  • nerve impingement
  • repetitive stress injury
  • sciatica
  • post-operative hip pain

Research is ongoing on the effectiveness of chiropractic for various forms of hip pain, but many studies are promising.

According to a small 2021 study, a drop-table technique (which uses gravity to assist with adjustments) resulted in significant improvements for people with hip pain, as compared to “sham” chiropractic adjustments, which is a type of gentle, non-specific, soft-tissue adjustment.

Meanwhile, a research review of four studies determined that, in both the short and long term, chiropractic manual therapy was more effective for osteoarthritis of the hip than only exercise.

Other research examined the effects of chiropractic on sciatica pain. It concluded that 60% of sciatica patients who hadn’t experienced pain relief from other treatments benefitted at least as much from spinal manipulation as from surgery.

Certain forms of hip pain may not be suitable for chiropractic care. People with severe osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer-related hip pain are probably not good candidates for this treatment.

Also, if you have other complications, such as a chronic disease, a herniated or slipped disc, or genetic abnormalities of the spine, you’ll need to discuss these with a chiropractor before treatment. They may advise you to seek an alternative form of care.

Most of your chiropractic treatment for hip pain will probably be manual adjustments. But other treatment modalities may be built in along the way.

In addition to adjustments, you might receive massage or electrical muscle stimulation (also known as e-stim), in which electrodes deliver electric current to muscles and nerves.

Other recent chiropractic developments include deep ultrasound, infrared sauna, and laser pain therapies.

Many chiropractors also combine adjustments with physical therapy, assigning patients exercises in the office and at home.

The more you keep up with at-home physical therapy, the more improvements you’ll likely see. Research has shown that better adherence to home exercises leads to significantly better outcomes for hip pain.

Before your first appointment with a chiropractor, you’ll fill out paperwork to explain your health history and the issue that led you to seek care. It’s also a good idea to coordinate with your insurance to determine whether you have chiropractic coverage (and whether the practitioner you’ve chosen is in-network).

On your arrival, you may receive X-rays or other diagnostic imaging that will help your chiropractor better understand the cause of your pain.

Some practitioners may also prep you for your adjustment by having you perform some stretches or receive a quick massage, electric muscle stimulation, or a session on a roller table.

From there, it’s time to head to the table for your adjustment.

Many hip adjustments are performed with the patient lying down on their back or side. The chiropractor may ask you to get into a certain position, such as on your back with your knees lifted upward at 90 degrees or on your side with one knee pointed outward.

Once you’re in position, the chiropractor will use a quick motion to manually manipulate your skeletal structure into alignment. Don’t be surprised if you hear popping and cracking — this is typical.

After your appointment, you may be given “homework” of specific stretches that support your in-office treatment. Let your chiropractor know if these are painful or if you experience adverse effects after your appointment.

Because chiropractic care involves the manipulation of muscles, bones, and nerves, it’s not without risks. Some commonly reported side effects after an adjustment include:

Research on other, more severe adverse effects from chiropractic care has been somewhat conflicting.

A systematic review from 2007 found that, due to underreporting in medical literature, the incidence of serious outcomes like vertebral dissection and stroke was unknown.

A 2017 review, on the other hand, examined 250 articles on the safety of chiropractic care. Among the articles studied, the risk of serious adverse events ranged from 1 per 2 million to 13 per 10,000 patients.

Chiropractic care can be an effective treatment for hip pain, but it may not be right for everyone.

Plenty of research has concluded that it’s generally safe, like any physical treatment. Still, chiropractic care does come with some risks and potential side effects. It may not be appropriate for easing every type of hip discomfort.

If you experience hip pain, talk with a general practitioner or pain specialist about whether chiropractic makes sense.