Hip Labral Tear: Treatment and Exercises to Feel Better

Learn what’s happening when you have a hip labral tear and get treatment tips and recommended exercises for your hip joint pain from our physical therapists.

Published Date: Sep 5, 2023
woman-with-doctor-stretching-her-knee-at-appointment

Hip Labral Tear: Treatment and Exercises to Feel Better

Learn what’s happening when you have a hip labral tear and get treatment tips and recommended exercises for your hip joint pain from our physical therapists.

Published Date: Sep 5, 2023
woman-with-doctor-stretching-her-knee-at-appointment

Hip Labral Tear: Treatment and Exercises to Feel Better

Learn what’s happening when you have a hip labral tear and get treatment tips and recommended exercises for your hip joint pain from our physical therapists.

Published Date: Sep 5, 2023
woman-with-doctor-stretching-her-knee-at-appointment

Hip Labral Tear: Treatment and Exercises to Feel Better

Learn what’s happening when you have a hip labral tear and get treatment tips and recommended exercises for your hip joint pain from our physical therapists.

Published Date: Sep 5, 2023
woman-with-doctor-stretching-her-knee-at-appointment
Table of Contents

The words “hip labral tear” may sound a little scary. But it’s just the name for an injury to the labrum, which is the soft tissue that creates a rim around your hip socket. Hip labral tears are common. In fact, imaging tests found them in almost 40% of people in their 20s and 30s, most of whom had no symptoms, according to a study published in Bone and Joint Journal. “These sorts of tears have always been there — we’re just getting better at diagnosing them,” says Keesha Vaughn, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

A small tear — which accounts for most labral tears — will usually feel better on its own within a few weeks with conservative treatment like adjustments to activities and exercise or physical therapy. Here, learn more about hip labral tears and how to treat them — especially with exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Keesha Vaughn, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Vaughn is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified orthopedic specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Hip Labral Tear?

“Talking about a labral tear requires a quick anatomy lesson,” says Dr. Vaughn. Your labrum is a cartilage-like tissue that runs around the rim of your hip joint. “Its purpose is to keep the ball of your hip, or the top of your leg bone, solidly in its socket,” she explains. Sometimes, the way your hip joint is shaped or something like a trauma to your hip can contribute to a tear in that cartilage. As a result, your hip joint can glide less smoothly, and you may be more prone to pain.

What are the Symptoms of a Hip Labral Tear?

Sometimes, hip labral tears don't cause any symptoms, or are so mild they're not really noticeable. Other times, they can be mistaken for other issues, like a pulled muscle or a groin strain "because the groin or front of the hip is usually where you feel the pain," says Dr. Vaughn. 

Here are some other signs the pain could be due to a labral tear:

  • Hip pain travels into other areas, like the upper thigh or even the knee

  • Hip pain worsens with sitting 

  • A clicking or locking sound in your hip area when you move

What Can Cause a Hip Labral Tear?

Here are a few common reasons people get hip labral tears:

  • Certain sports. Athletes whose activities involve repeated hip flexion — like dancers, rowers, or hockey and soccer goalies — may be more prone to hip labral tears. This is because of the repetitive and sometimes forceful amount of hip flexion against the labrum involved in these activities, which can sometimes contribute to a tear, says Dr. Vaughn.

  • Hip impingement, or femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). This is when the femoral head, or ball of your hip, doesn’t fit exactly into your acetabulum, or hip cup. In these situations, your labrum can be affected. 

  • Hip osteoarthritis (OA). “Sometimes a labral tear can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, which can affect the tear and its symptoms,” says Dr. Vaughn. “But it can be a bit of a chicken-egg situation,” she adds, meaning it can be hard to know whether the labral tear contributes to OA, or the other way around.

Just know that having any of these factors present in your life does not mean you are bound to develop a hip labral tear, or that you are stuck dealing with hip pain forever if you do develop a tear. There are always steps you can take to manage labral tear symptoms and get your function back.

How to Treat Hip Labral Tears

When it comes to treating hip labral tears, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. "Many hip labral tears come with mild symptoms and can be managed well with conservative measures, like improving your glute strength,” says Dr. Vaughn. Common hip labral tear treatment includes:

Physical therapy. Targeted exercises can help by strengthening the muscles around the hip joint and improving flexibility, potentially relieving symptoms and preventing further symptoms. In some cases, working with a physical therapist who recommends specific exercises tailored to your needs can make a big difference in your healing. “If you want to improve your tolerance to things like sitting at your desk, playing with your kids, and going to the gym without excessive pain, a physical therapist can show you how to improve the strength and mobility of your hips without irritating sensitive tissues," says Dr. Vaughn. 

A PT can also show you ways to move that will help with recovery. “A lot of people with labral issues feel like their hips are tight, so they try to do yoga, or aggressively stretch their hips, which can make irritated tissues feel even more sensitive,” says Dr. Vaughn. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Over-the-counter medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for hip pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

Adjust your sitting. There’s no right or wrong way to sit, but when your hips hurt because of a labral tear, you may want to make adjustments to find what’s comfortable for you. “Sitting on a low chair or deep couch can increase irritation for some people. If this is the case for you, try sitting on a chair with a pillow or folded blanket under you to slightly elevate your seat. You could also half-sit or lean on a stool instead,” says Dr. Vaughn. “This will help get you out of that deep hip flexion position that can cause pain.” 

If you sit a lot at work, consider trying a standing desk, or propping your computer on a higher shelf or filing cabinet so you can stand while you work on occasion. 

Shift how you sleep. There’s also no right or wrong sleep position. But if you’re a side sleeper and have hip pain at night or in the morning, see if it’s more comfortable to sleep on your back or stomach instead. These may be more comfortable for your hips, says Dr. Vaughn.

A Word About Surgery and Hip Labral Tears

For most people, surgery is not needed for hip labral tears. Tears should become less painful over time and that’s usually enough to allow you to continue to do the daily activities and workouts that you love. But if you find that your function or pain is still interfering with your quality of life after trying 'first line treatments' (or conservative interventions) like exercise and activity modifications, then you might talk to your doctor to see if surgery is something that might be an option.

Exercises to Help a Hip Labral Tear

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Donkey Kicks
  • Single-Leg Romanian DeadLift (RDL)
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Frankenstein Walk
  • Bridge
  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Overhead Reach
  • Side-Lying Quad Stretch

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These hip labral tear exercises are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists to help treat your pain. Most help strengthen your glute muscles, which is important to help take pressure off of your hip joint, says Dr. Vaughn.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Adjust Your Bike Seat

Movement and exercise are very beneficial for treating hip labral tears, and you should continue to do any activities you can tolerate. Biking is one activity that a lot of people with labral tears turn to, explains Dr. Vaughn. "However, how you set your bike up could make a big difference in how you feel while biking." Raising the seat and supporting your upper body with your hands and elbows extended straight can change the angle of hip flexion as you pedal and therefore reduce irritation with this activity. Another tip: "Try to avoid leaning your forearms on the handle bars,” says Dr. Vaughn. “This can make biking a lot more comfortable for some people with labral tears."

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

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References

  1. Chamberlain, R. (2021). Hip Pain in Adults: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis. American Family Physician, 103(2), 81-89.

  2. Martin, S. D., Abraham, P. F., Varady, N. H., Nazal, M. R., Conaway, W., Quinlan, N. J., & Alpaugh, K. (2021). Hip Arthroscopy Versus Physical Therapy for the Treatment of Symptomatic Acetabular Labral Tears in Patients Older Than 40 Years: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(5), 1199–1208. doi:10.1177/0363546521990789

  3. Lee, A. J. J., Armour, P., Thind, D., Coates, M. H., & Kang, A. C. L. (2015). The prevalence of acetabular labral tears and associated pathology in a young asymptomatic population. The Bone & Joint Journal, 97-B(5), 623–627. doi:10.1302/0301-620x.97b5.35166

  4. Berthelot, J.-M., Brulefert, K., Arnolfo, P., Le Goff, B., & Darrieutort-Laffite, C. (2023). Update on contribution of hip labral tears to hip pain: A narrative review. Joint Bone Spine, 90(1), 105465. doi:10.1016/j.jbspin.2022.105465