How to Deal with Snapping Hip Syndrome, According to Physical Therapists

Snapping hip syndrome affects people differently. Learn what causes it, along with how to manage and treat it with simple, PT-recommended exercises.

Published Date: Jun 15, 2023
Doctor-holding-plastic-skeleton-of-the-pelvis-to-show-his-patient-at-appointment

How to Deal with Snapping Hip Syndrome, According to Physical Therapists

Snapping hip syndrome affects people differently. Learn what causes it, along with how to manage and treat it with simple, PT-recommended exercises.

Published Date: Jun 15, 2023
Doctor-holding-plastic-skeleton-of-the-pelvis-to-show-his-patient-at-appointment

How to Deal with Snapping Hip Syndrome, According to Physical Therapists

Snapping hip syndrome affects people differently. Learn what causes it, along with how to manage and treat it with simple, PT-recommended exercises.

Published Date: Jun 15, 2023
Doctor-holding-plastic-skeleton-of-the-pelvis-to-show-his-patient-at-appointment

How to Deal with Snapping Hip Syndrome, According to Physical Therapists

Snapping hip syndrome affects people differently. Learn what causes it, along with how to manage and treat it with simple, PT-recommended exercises.

Published Date: Jun 15, 2023
Doctor-holding-plastic-skeleton-of-the-pelvis-to-show-his-patient-at-appointment
Table of Contents

Ever feel or hear a snapping sensation in your hip when you move? It can be alarming, especially at first, but it’s usually not anything to worry about. Snapping hip syndrome is a common condition that causes a popping, clicking, or snapping feeling when your tendons move over your hip joint. “It feels like the hip clicks as it moves forward, as though something is rolling on top of something else,” says Cody Anderson, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. While snapping hip syndrome can make it harder to move as you normally do, it’s also typically very treatable, especially with physical therapy. 

Here, learn more about what causes snapping hip syndrome and how to treat it with exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Cody Anderson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Anderson is a Hinge Health physical therapist with special interests in orthopedics, post-operative recovery, and movement optimism.
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 Snapping Hip Syndrome?

Your hips are surrounded and held together by tendons, such as the iliotibial (IT) band. When these tendons get tight, they can cause a snapping or popping sensation as they roll over your hip joints. “This tends to be most noticeable when you’re doing activities like walking, running, bending, or standing up,” says Dr. Anderson.

Sometimes, this can be associated with pain or discomfort, but not always. Think of it as pulling a rubber band tight and flicking it. It’s normal for the band to make a sound, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

There are a few types of snapping hip syndrome, and each one involves a different part of the hip: 

  • External snapping hip syndrome is the most common type. It happens when a tight IT band “snaps” as it rolls over the greater trochanter, the bony part of the femur that sticks out on the outside of the hip joint.

  • Internal snapping hip syndrome, the second most common form of snapping hip syndrome, usually occurs when the tendon that connects your inner hip muscles to your thigh bone — the iliopsoas tendon — is tight, says Dr. Anderson. This results in a snapping sensation in the front of your hip joint.

  • Intra-articular snapping hip syndrome stems from an injury in the hip itself, such as a labral cartilage tear, rather than a tight tendon. 

Your physical therapist or medical provider can help you determine the type of snapping hip syndrome you have. 

What Causes Snapping Hip Syndrome? 

The cause of snapping hip syndrome depends on where it’s located. Some of the most common causes include: 

  • Muscle imbalances. One of the most common causes of external snapping hip syndrome, Dr. Anderson says, is muscle imbalance. “People can have hip weakness on one side that causes their pelvis to tilt and the other side to push more into the greater trochanter,” he says. 

  • Hip anatomy. Muscle or tendon length, along with the distance between your bones, can also make a person susceptible to snapping hip syndrome. Even in these cases, you can take steps to prevent and treat it, though. 

  • Injury. Trauma to the hip area, such as from an injury or surgery, may cause a snapping sensation. 

  • Repetitive activities. Athletes or people who regularly participate in high-intensity activities requiring the hip to bend repeatedly are more likely to develop tight tendons that cause snapping hip. Similarly, sitting without changing postures can tighten tissues in the hip area and contribute to snapping hip syndrome.

Symptoms of Snapping Hip Syndrome

Snapping hip syndrome can cause different symptoms in different people. Some of the most common symptoms of snapping hip syndrome may include: 

  • Hip pain, inflammation, or discomfort 

  • Stiffness when moving the hip joint

  • Snapping sensation or sound in the hip

  • Swelling around the hip

  • Leg muscle weakness when trying to lift your leg sideways or forward 

  • Difficulty with regular physical activity

Treatment for Snapping Hip Syndrome 

Most cases of snapping hip syndrome can be managed at home and with exercise and conservative measures, such as:  

  • Heat and ice. Both heat and ice can help calm down irritated tendons and muscles surrounding the hip. If you have an acute injury, then Dr. Anderson recommends ice to control inflammation. Otherwise, heat tends to feel better for ongoing pain because it warms up the tissues and can promote better movement. Ultimately, choose the one that feels best for you. 

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

  • Activity modification. Although you may assume it’s best to rest when you have hip pain, you really want to keep moving as best as you can. But modifying or scaling back on activities that are causing you an uptick in pain can help. For instance, if your pain worsens with biking, you could consider decreasing the length or intensity of your bike rides, or supplementing biking with some walking or swimming a few days per week. 

  • Physical therapy exercises. Physical therapy can help you manage symptoms of snapping hip syndrome, especially if your symptoms are related to muscle weakness, says Dr. Anderson.

PT-Recommended Exercises for Snapping Hip Syndrome

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Hip Flexor Stretch
  • Bridges
  • Clamshells
  • Standing Marching

No matter what your symptoms are or what type of snapping hip syndrome you have, exercise and movement are always important parts of treating and preventing pain flares. These exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are good exercises to start with. 

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: Try Heat Before Exercise 

While both heat and ice can help with persistent snapping hip syndrome, Dr. Anderson says applying heat prior to exercise can help loosen up the muscles. Try using a heat pack before doing the exercises mentioned above, or before any type of physical activity and see if you notice a difference in how your hip feels. 

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.

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.

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References 

  1. Alaia, M. J. (2020, May). Snapping Hip. OrthoIno — American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/snapping-hip/

  2. Musick, S. R., & Varacallo, M. (2019, April 16). Snapping Hip Syndrome. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448200/

  3. Hyland, S., Graefe, S., & Varacallo, M. (2021). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Iliotibial Band (Tract). PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30725782/

  4. Nolton, E., & Ambegaonkar, J. (2018). Recognizing and Managing Snapping Hip Syndrome in Dancers. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 33(4), 286–291. doi:10.21091/mppa.2018.4042

  5. Giai Via, A., Fioruzzi, A., & Randelli, F. (2017). Diagnosis and Management of Snapping Hip Syndrome: A Comprehensive Review of Literature. Rheumatology: Current Research, 07(04). doi:10.4172/2161-1149.1000228