Your hip joint helps you move from a sitting position to a standing, walking, running, or jumping position. These activities are difficult, if not impossible, with a stiff hip. Each step or movement can trigger severe pain.
While some stiff hip symptoms may be temporary, others may result in long-term discomfort if left untreated. Knowing when to seek medical care can mean the difference between daily discomfort and pain-free activities.
Stiff hips may be the result of a short-term injury or part of a chronic, debilitating condition.
One type of injury that can occur is a labral tear. The labrum is a type of cartilage, and it covers the hip socket.
You also may experience hip stiffness after exercising due to tight hip flexor muscles. The flexor muscles are a collection of muscles that help you lift your knees while bending at the waist. Tight flexor muscles are usually a temporary condition.
Other chronic conditions associated with hip stiffness include:
- ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that causes pain and stiffness in the spine
- juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)
- osteoarthritis (OA)
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- certain types of bursitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs around your joints), such as inflammatory bursitis and trochanteric bursitis
- Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a condition that cuts off blood supply to the top of the femur
- Lyme disease
- avascular necrosis of the hip
A hip fracture or dislocated hip joint won’t cause hip stiffness, but they are considered medical emergencies. You should seek immediate medical treatment if you’re in intense pain and you suspect you’ve fractured or dislocated your hip.
Hip stiffness is the feeling that your hip joint doesn’t move as easily as it once did, and it’s generally painful. You may feel as if your hip is clicking or popping as you move.
Your range of motion may also be affected. Sometimes hip stiffness may make you move more slowly than you used to.
Seek immediate medical treatment if you have the following symptoms:
- feeling faint or lightheaded
- severe pain, especially in the upper thigh or groin, that worsens when you attempt to lift your leg up or rotate it outward
- sudden skin rash or redness around the hip
- visible changes to the hip joint, such as a hip deformity
You should seek urgent medical attention if you continue to experience hip pain or have difficulty moving the hip joint, even in the absence of a known injury.
The sudden inability to bear weight without severe hip pain or instability is also cause for major concern.
Your doctor may diagnose a stiff hip by taking your medical history, performing a physical examination, and taking imaging scans.
Your medical history involves the following:
- any medical conditions you’ve been diagnosed with
- any recent falls or injuries
- a detailed description of your hip stiffness
- a review of other symptoms
During a physical examination, your doctor will perform the following actions:
- look at the skin surrounding the hip
- touch the joint to determine tender areas and the range of motion of your hips
- examine you for any difficulties or deformities while you walk
Treatment for a stiff hip depends on the underlying cause.
Arthritis of the hip is typically treated with anti-inflammatory pain medications and physical therapy. Your doctor may also recommend total hip arthroplasty.
Examples of at-home treatments for a stiff hip include:
- applying heat or ice to the affected hip with a covering to prevent burns or frostbite
- performing physical or occupational therapy exercises at home to improve mobility
- resting the affected or painful hip joint
- stretching the hip muscles to reduce tension
- taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which can also alleviate the pain
Your doctor may prescribe stronger medications if these treatments aren’t enough to relieve hip stiffness. These include prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), painkillers, and steroids to reduce inflammation.
Cortisone shots are also available to relieve hip stiffness.
Ultimately, hip stiffness due to injury or OA may require surgery. This includes a total hip replacement, which involves removing the damaged hip portion and replacing it with an artificial hip joint. Surgery is almost always considered a treatment of last resort.
Hip stiffness isn’t always preventable. However, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the stress and strain placed on your hips. Warming up, stretching, and cooling down properly when exercising can help prevent a stiff hip.