Snapping hip syndrome (SHS) — medically referred to as coxa saltans — is a hip disorder. A person with SHS may hear a snapping sound or feel a snapping sensation when they move their hip joint. When muscle tendons become inflamed, often from overuse, they can click as they rub over the hip socket bone.

SHS is more common in women, though it can affect people of all genders and ages.

There are three main types of snapping hip syndrome:

  • Internal. This type occurs when your tendons slide over bone structures at the front of your hip joint.
  • External. With this type, your tendon or muscle slides over bone at the top of your thigh bone, or femur.
  • Intra-articular. In this category, a snapping hip is caused by an actual hip joint issue or injury. Unlike external or internal SHS, intra-articular SFS isn’t caused by a tendon or muscle.

Many cases of SHS are harmless but can increase risk for joint damage. For athletes and dancers, more serious cases of this condition can cause pain and affect their overall performance.

SHS is often caused by your hip tendon or muscle sliding over bone. As the muscle stretches, it creates tension that results in a snapping sensation when released.

The underlying cause of your snapping hip depends on the type of SHS you have.

Internal SHS

This form of SHS occurs when your hip muscle or tendons slide over the front of your hip joint. It’s usually caused when your iliopsoas tendon — the tendon connecting your inner hip muscles to your thigh bone — moves over the pelvic bone. Another cause of this condition is when your quadriceps muscle moves over the ball part of your hip’s ball-and-socket joint.

Internal SHS is the second most common form of this disorder. People with internal snapping hip often experience a gradual onset of symptoms that worsen over time. They may experience pain near the groin and can hear popping when they run.

External SHS

External SHS occurs when the iliotibial band slides over the top of your femur, an area called the greater trochanter, along the outside. This is the most common type of SHS.

People with this form of SHS may experience snapping while running or climbing stairs. They may also experience some pain and tenderness on the outside of the hip. It often hurts to lie on this hip at night, and the pain may worsen over time.

Intra-articular SHS

Unlike internal and external SHS, intra-articular SHS isn’t caused from a muscle or tendon. Instead, a hip joint injury or issue can trigger this condition.

Common causes of intra-articular SHS include:

  • articular cartilage injury, or injury to the cartilage that lines the ball or the socket of the hip joint
  • acetabular labral tear, or injury to cartilage that rings your hip socket
  • broken bone fragments of loose tissue that become trapped between your hip’s ball-and-socket joint

Intra-articular SHS can occur suddenly from trauma or injury.

As its name indicates, SHS can result in an audible snapping or clicking sound. It often causes no pain, but you may feel a clicking or popping sensation when flexing your hip.

Other symptoms you may experience with this condition include:

  • pain
  • inflammation
  • leg muscle weakness when trying to lift your leg sideways or forward
  • swelling
  • difficulty with regular physical activity such as walking or rising from your chair
  • feeling your hip is coming out of place

Before recommending treatment, your doctor needs to determine the exact cause of your snapping hip. They will closely examine your medical history, evaluate your symptoms, and perform a physical examination.

Your doctor may also order X-rays to allow for full visibility of your bones and joints or an MRI scan to help rule out other hip disorders, including:

SHS is often painless and may not require medical treatment. If it causes minor pain, your doctor may recommend pain relievers and an cold compress. You may also be required to limit physical activity to allow your muscles and tendons to heal.

In more serious cases, you may need physical therapy to increase your range of motion or steroid injections for pain relief. There are also exercises you can do to strengthen and stretch your surrounding muscles and relieve symptoms.

Some common exercises to treat SHS include:

Iliotibial band stretch

  1. Lean sideways against a wall, standing on the leg with the affected hip. This leg should be closest to the wall.
  2. Cross your opposite leg in front of the affected leg.
  3. Lean away from the wall, gently stretching your hip.
  4. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat two to three times.

Hip flexor stretch

  1. Kneel on your affected leg, with the opposite leg in front.
  2. With your back straight, push your hips forward.
  3. Stretch in this position until you feel slight tension in the upper thigh of your affected leg and your hip.
  4. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat two to three times.

Lying-down hamstring stretch

  1. Lie flat on the floor.
  2. Lift your affected leg in the air perpendicular to your body.
  3. Gently pull your leg toward your body until you feel slight tension in the back of your thigh.
  4. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat two to three times.

Bridges

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Lift your hips off of the floor until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line.
  3. Hold this stretch for about six seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your hips back down to the floor.
  5. Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Clam shell

  1. Lie on your side with the affected leg on top.
  2. Keep your legs together and bend your knees.
  3. Raise your top knee, keeping your feet together. Your legs should resemble a clam shell when opened.
  4. Hold this stretch for about six seconds.
  5. Slowly lower your knee back down.
  6. Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Surgery is rare but may be recommended to relieve symptoms. Your procedure depends on the underlying cause of your condition.

Common procedures for SHS include:

  • Iliotibial band release. This procedure involves lengthening your iliotibial band to reduce tension and hip snapping. It’s recommended for people experiencing pain from external SHS.
  • Iliopsoas tendon release. Recommended for people with internal SHS, this procedure involves lengthening the iliopsoas tendon. It reduces muscle tension and may decrease hip clicking.
  • Arthroscopic hip debridement. With this surgical procedure, your doctor will make a small incision at the hip joint cavity to remove debris. This procedure is most appropriate for those with intra-articular SHS.

SHS often occurs when a tendon or muscle glides over the hip bone. It can also occur from a sudden injury or trauma. This condition is usually painless but can progress into gradual discomfort.

If you’re experiencing snapping or clicking at your hip paired with pain and limited mobility, seek medical attention. While you can treat this condition at home, more serious cases may require physical therapy and medication.