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.
What causes a stiff hip?
A stiff hip may be the result of a short-term injury or part of a chronic, debilitating condition. Examples of injuries that can occur include a hip fracture, dislocation, or sprain where your hip ligament is stretched or torn.
A hip fracture is considered a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate medical treatment if you suspect you’ve fractured your hip.
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:
What are the symptoms of a stiff hip?
Hip stiffness is the feeling that your hip joint doesn’t move as easily as it once did, and is 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.
When should I seek medical help?
A hip fracture or dislocated hip joint is a common causes of hip stiffness. A fracture may occur after a fall or a blow to your hip. 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.
How is a stiff hip diagnosed?
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:
- visualizing the hip joint
- touching the joint to determine tender areas and the range of motion of your hips
- examining you for any difficulties or deformities while you walk
Imaging studies may include an X-ray or MRI scan to identify potential areas of hip fracture or to rule out a ligament or muscle injury.
How is a stiff hip treated?
Treatment for a stiff hip depends on the underlying cause. For example, a hip fracture is usually corrected with surgery. And a dislocated hip joint will be reduced with either a closed reduction, or with an open reduction (making a skin incision to reduce the hip).
There is no cure for arthritis of the hip. The condition 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.
How can a stiff hip be prevented?
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.
Taking precautions to prevent falls in your home also can keep you from a hip sprain or fracture. These include:
- applying nonslip strips to your bathtub or shower floors
- arranging your furniture so that you have a clear pathway to walk
- installing nightlights in your bedroom and bathroom
- installing handrails on both sides of your stairways
- lighting your home well, especially on stairways
- rearranging commonly used items to make them more accessible
- removing clutter and concealing any cords that could cause you to trip
- removing throw rugs that might slip and cause you to trip