The head of your femur, or thighbone, is shaped like a ball that fits into the socket of your pelvis. The labrum is a ring of cartilage along the edge of the socket that gives stability to the hip joint and helps absorb shock.
A labral tear is a tear of this cartilage. It can lead to pain, instability, and a clicking sound when moving your hip.
Hip labral tears are most common in athletes who play contact sports like hockey or football. Structural differences in the hip can make some people more likely to experience injury.
Read on to learn more about hip labral tears, including typical symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Labral tears are broadly classified into two categories, depending on where the labrum is torn.
- Anterior tears. These occur on the side of the joint closest to your belly.
- Posterior tears. These occur on the side of the joint closest to your back.
The majority of tears occur on the anterior side of the labrum, which is wider and thinner than the posterior section, according to
In a 2021 study of almost 2,000 people who received arthroscopic labral repairs,
They can include:
- pain, usually at the front of your hip near the groin
- pain that can extend into your buttocks or toward your knee
- pain when rotating your hip
- dull pain that gets worse after activities like running, walking, or prolonged sitting
- locking or clicking at the hip
- stiffness when moving your hip
It’s important to seek medical attention if the pain is:
- getting worse
- impacting your daily activities or sports activity
Labral tears can be caused by either repetitive wear and tear on your hip joint or a sudden traumatic injury.
Anybody can develop a labral tear, but some people are more likely to experience one. The most common underlying cause is impingement of the hip bones.
Hip impingement is when the head of your femur pinches the socket of your hip bone. It causes repetitive atypical contact between the femur and pelvis, per
Other conditions that may make you more likely to experience labral tears include:
Athletes in sports where the hip is repeatedly flexed and who experience a sudden impact on their hip are at particular risk of labral tear.
Athletes at risk include:
- hockey players
- soccer players
- track and field athletes
- cross country athletes
- football players
- rugby players
Labral tears can be difficult to diagnose because many hip injuries cause similar symptoms. They’re often misdiagnosed for groin strains, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery.
To make a diagnosis, a sports medicine doctor or orthopedist will perform a physical exam and consider your symptoms. They may put your hip in certain positions to see if you experience pain or clicking.
If they suspect your labrum might be torn, they will order imaging of your hip. Imaging techniques include:
- X-ray. An X-ray can help identify signs of arthritis and structural concerns in your hip.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses electromagnetic fields to create images of your body. It can help a doctor identify atypical structures or tears in the soft tissue in your hip, including your labrum.
- Magnetic resonance arthrogram (MRA). An MRA is a special type of MRI that requires a healthcare professional to inject a dye into your hip joint. The images created by an MRA highlight or contrast the hip cartilage and joint space from the rest of the bones. In a 2017 study including 50 people, an MRI detected labral tears in 28 people while an MRA detected tears in 38 of them.
If you don’t have any symptoms, treatment may not be needed.
However, if your labral tear is causing pain or discomfort, your doctor will likely first recommend nonsurgical treatments. If the labral tear doesn’t respond to these treatments, you may need surgery.
You may be able to manage your symptoms at home by:
- getting plenty of rest
- avoiding activities that cause pain
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage pain and inflammation
- following your doctor’s instructions if they recommend crutches or a cane
If NSAIDs don’t help your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe more powerful pain medication. They may also recommend an intra-articular injection.
This injection goes directly into your joint capsule. It consists of an anesthetic to reduce pain and a corticosteroid to help manage inflammation.
A positive response to an intra-articular injection can help confirm a labral tear diagnosis.
A physical therapist can help you develop a plan to return to activity without pain. Your physical therapy program can help you:
- minimize pain
- correct movement patterns
- strengthen your buttocks, thigh, and back
- recover your range of motion
- return to sports activity
If you have a severe tear or if the tear doesn’t respond to other conservative treatments, you may need a type of surgery called arthroscopy.
A surgeon performs an arthroscopic procedure using a narrow tube with a camera and light. This allows the surgeon to treat the tear without creating a large incision.
Three types of arthroscopic surgery may be performed:
- Arthroscopic labral debridement. The surgeon removes the torn part of the labrum to prevent pain and further damage.
- Arthroscopic hip labral repair. The surgeon cleans up scar tissue and rough edges of the labrum, then reattaches the labrum to the bone.
- Arthroscopic hip labral replacement. The surgeon replaces the damaged labrum with a graft made from your own tissue or the tissue of a cadaver.
In recent years, labral repair has become the most common surgery. One
Will a hip labral tear heal on its own?
A labral tear won’t heal by itself, but minor tears can usually be managed conservatively. Surgery is required to repair major labral tears.
Recovery from a torn labrum can take up to 6 weeks. Most competitive athletes can return to sports after 2 to 6 months.
If you have surgery, you’ll likely be on crutches for 2 to 6 weeks after the procedure.
According to a 2018 research review, studies have found that labral tears rarely occur without atypical bone structures. Unless differences in the structure of the hip are addressed, your hip may be at risk of reinjury.
If you suspect you may have a labral tear, it’s important to seek medical attention. If you have a small tear, conservative treatments may be enough to manage it. Larger tears may need surgery.
A torn labrum can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to many other hip injuries. A healthcare professional can order imaging tests, such as MRI and MRA, that can help identify the injury.