Runners run because running feels good. Sure, we gripe about how it hurts and all the breathing and sweating is awful. But deep down, we love it. Unless, of course, it hurts for real. There is a dividing line between discomfort from fatigue, and pain from injury. The hips are one area this is especially true. If you’re a runner experiencing hip pain, an activity that was once very enjoyable may become excruciating. If that’s the case, it’s time to stop and give a good think to the causes and solutions to the problem. In this article, we’ll go into detail about what might be causing your hip pain. We’ll also cover some treatments and ways that you can prevent hip pain in the future.
Although you might be very uncomfortable when running now, our hope is that you’ll have some ideas of what you can do going forward by the end of this article.
Basic Overview of Hip Anatomy
Let’s discuss anatomy for a moment. The hip joint is one of the largest in your body, and it’s also weight-bearing. That means that if your hip is injured, it will greatly impact the rest of your body.
The hip joint is formed where the thigh bone and pelvis meet. It’s a ball-and-socket joint with the thigh bone (femur) having the ball-shaped head that fits into the socket in the pelvis. It’s like the shoulder, but it is much more stable.
What are Hip Flexors?
Hip flexors are the muscles that allow you to move your leg up toward your torso, and to bend down at your waist. These muscles can tear as a result of falls or sudden movements.
Hip flexors are used for flexion movement, which just means that they are bringing two bones close together.
Why are Runners Susceptible to Hip Pain?
Runners can have hip pain for a variety of reasons, ranging from overuse to various injuries. Some examples include muscle strain when you are using your hips too much, perhaps if you just suddenly upped your mileage and your body isn’t prepared.
Another reason you might feel hip pain as a runner is if you’re an older athlete and suffer from osteoarthritis. This occurs when the cartilage in the hip joint breaks down and becomes brittle. Ultimately, it means you have less cushioning between bones when you run.
Hip pain can also be due to poor posture or running form, running shoes that don’t fit, or cambered roads, which just means that the road surface is not level. This could also happen if you run on the beach as well, since your legs aren’t even and one is higher than the other.
Symptoms of Hip Pain
If you have hip pain, you’ll definitely feel it. Typically, you’ll experience pain at the front of the joint, but it can also occur at the lower glutes or the top part of your thigh.
It could range from mild pain to cramping to bruising to muscle spasms, which occur when there is a complete tear. If there is a complete tear in your hip flexor, you might even have difficulties walking.
Common Causes of Hip Pain
If you’re dealing with hip pain as a runner, it’s probably due to one of the causes below. You’ll have to figure out which one best describes you.
Hip Flexor Strain or Tendonitis
If your hip flexor is strained, you’ve been using it too much. You might feel stiff or just achy, especially when you flex your hips – including when you run. The way to treat this cause is to ice where it hurts and complete physical therapy if it’s serious.
If you break your hip due to a stress fracture, this is a very serious issue. Most of the time, stress fractures are caused by injuries or falls and are more common in older individuals, but they can happen to anyone.
They typically occur when the bone underneath the femur breaks, and you may not even be able to put any weight on that leg or even move at all. If you experience this injury, you will almost always need to have surgery to repair or replace your hip.
IT Band Syndrome
The IT band is the tissue that connects the outside of your hip to your knee and shinbone. If it’s been overused, then you could suffer from IT Band Syndrome, a particular issue for runners.
If your hip, knee, or thigh feels tender or makes clicking or popping noises when you move, you likely are dealing with ITBS. The solution to this common cause is icing where it hurts, and stretching to improve your strength in that area.
It’s a weird word, but the bursae are sacs filled with fluid that help cushion your hip joints. When you do things repetitively, like running, this can put pressure on the bursae, which might lead to bursitis or inflammation of the bursae.
In order to recover from this common cause, take a break from running for a couple days until you feel better. Once you’re back at it, make sure that you always take the time to warm up before running.
This common cause is probably less likely for runners. Hip pointers often originate with a fall or contact sports like soccer where you might get kicked in the hip. A hip pointer is just simply a bruise on your hip.
You’ll want to take time to rest and recuperate until your hip isn’t bruised anymore. Ice the area as well, and do whatever you need to do to help reduce the bruising.
Labral Cartilage Tear
If you’re a runner, you have a higher risk for a cartilage tear. They occur from movements that you do over and over, like running. Because the hip labrum helps to cushion and stabilize your hip, it will likely be uncomfortable if it tears.
You might hear a variety of different noises from clicking to locking sounds when you walk. Or, you might not. Sometimes there aren’t any signs at all. But if you think you have a cartilage tear, definitely speak with a doctor.
Depending on what they think, you might need to undergo physical therapy. If it’s very serious and hasn’t improved, you may even need surgery.
Treatment for Hip Pain
If you have hip pain now, this is the section you want to read. But there is a caveat: most hip pain causes need to be diagnosed by a doctor.
If you suspect that you just have a strain, you’ll probably be good to exercise the area, give yourself the day off, and not go at it as hard.
But if you think that you might be suffering from any other common cause, it’s probably good to see a doctor to make sure that you aren’t dealing with anything super serious.
You’ll need to do several things to recover from non-serious causes of hip pain. Most of them you can start doing even before you see a doctor.
A lot of hip pain and injuries are due to overtraining, so the simple solution is to look at how many miles you’ve been running and then cut that number. Depending on how serious the injury, you might need to really cut back.
If you participate in other sports as well, running might not be the sole culprit, especially if you dealt with a kick to your hip. And if you are prone to falls, that might be the cause too, not necessarily running.
But to deal with the ramifications of your hip injury, you’ll have to cut back your sports participation and then add it back in at a slow and comfortable pace when everything has started to heal.
Ice helps with swelling. Use it on the affected area to help deal with inflammation. The best time to apply ice is within the first two days that you’ve experienced pain. You can use a bag of crushed ice, an ice pack, or even a bag of frozen peas for icing.
Remember to avoid placing the ice directly on your bare skin and instead wrap a paper towel or cloth around the ice pack or bag. You’ll want to apply ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
If you’re dealing with hip pain, there’s a good chance that you haven’t been taking the time to stretch and warm up before runs. While you’re recovering, start getting into a routine of stretching your hips every day.
One stretch that you might want to try is the 90-degree stretch, which will give you a nice hip stretch. Start with your right knee at a 90-degree angle from the knee pointing up and then place your left knee to the left of your body and make a 90-degree from the knee pointing down.
If you’re regularly spending time warming up before your runs and you’re still dealing with hip pain, you might be suffering from weak hips. This is especially true if you sit all day. You’ll want to try a variety of hip strengthening exercises.
One example is a side leg lift. As the name suggests, like on your side with your legs stretched out and on top of one another. Then raise the leg on top as high as you can, keeping everything nice and neutral. Do this 10 to 15 times on each side.
Prevention for Hip Pain
Once you’ve recovered from your hip pain, work to prevent any future injuries and pain. This means you’ll need to be more aware of proclivities that you might have to hip pain – like overuse.
Stretch and Strengthen Your Hip Flexors
Continue stretching and strengthening your hip flexors. You can do this through straight leg raises, squats, bridges, and lunges. Make sure that you’re not pushing too hard. The idea is just to get a nice stretch.
Wear Correct Running Shoes
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re wearing the correct running shoes for you. Shoes that throw off your form are good candidates for causing hip pain because you’re not running like you should.
You might want to double-check that you are wearing the best running shoes for hip pain. Typically a good rule of thumb, as obvious as it sounds, is to see if they are comfortable. If they are not, you’ll probably want to look for a new pair.
Finally, you’ll need to avoid overtraining. You’ll put your hips under a lot of pressure if you ratchet things up too quickly with your mileage. Stick to the 10% rule and only increase mileage by 10% each week.
This means that if you typically run 20 miles a week, don’t add more than 2 miles the next week even if you’re feeling really great. There’s a good chance that your hips might be due for an injury if you do that.
Hip pain is never comfortable, but it is preventable. By making sure that your hips are nice and strong through stretching and strengthening, you should have to deal with fewer hip injuries.
Don’t forget to apply ice when you do have hip pain and to see a doctor in case it’s serious. By taking some time to rest, you’ll be back on the road again in no time!