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Snapping Hip Syndrome in Runners: How to Prevent Hip Popping

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Runners worldwide are familiar with a something called hip popping, a situation that is painful and can disrupt your running for a good while. Physical injuries during running and other physical activities cannot be eliminated but we can take precautions to prevent them. So, let’s get straight to the business and understand everything about hip popping to avoid this agonizing mishap.

The fact that you are on this page tells us that you have heard of hip popping. Read On to Know:

  • What is Hip Popping Syndrome
  • Causes of Hip Popping
  • Types of Snapping/Popping Hip
  • How to Prevent Hip Popping During Exercise
  • How to Treat a Snapping Hip

What is Hip Popping Syndrome

hip popping
Hip Popping During Excessive Exercise (source)

Hip popping during exercise occurs mostly due to snapping hip syndrome, a medical condition in which a snapping sensation is felt when the hip is flexed and extended. Speaking in detail, hip popping is experienced due to an abnormal movement of a muscle or tendon over the hip joint.

Its symptoms include an audible popping or snapping sound as the tendon at the hip flexor crease shifts from flexion to extension position. The dislocation of the hip tendon is more likely when the hip muscles are used excessively and as a result, they become tight, fatigued, or swollen.

Hence individuals engaged in athletic activities such as running, cycling, horseback riding, soccer, gymnastics, dance, military training, and exercises are more exposed to experiencing hip popping. Sometimes sudden hip movements during everyday activities like getting up from a chair, walking, forceful leg movements may also trigger snapping of the hip.

Causes of Hip Popping

The real cause of hip popping is still unknown. Since it is widely seen in athletes and people engaged in workouts and exercises, experts believe that repetitive and physically demanding hip movements leads to injury and hence popping of hip muscles/tendons.

In extreme weight lifting and running, the cause of hip snapping is attributed to severe thickening of the tendons in the hip area. Snapping hip syndrome is often detected in individuals in the age group between 15 and 40 years.

Types of Snapping/Popping Hip

While hip popping is a harmless condition, it can sometimes lead to damage in joints causing distressing pain. Ideally, snapping hip syndrome pop up in three different ways, viz.

Internal Snapping Hip

internal snapping hip
Internal Snapping Hip Syndrome (source)

When a tendon moves over the bony structure at the front of the hip joint, a tension is created which releases with a “snap.” It is caused either by the movement of the iliopsoas tendon (connects two inner hip muscles to the thigh bone) over a protrusion of the pelvic bone, or the displacement of the rectus femoris over the round femoral head of the hip’s ball-and-socket joint.

The iliopsoas tendon and rectus femoris are commonly known as hip flexors. This type of hip snapping is one of the common running injuries. Internal hip popping is accompanied by sharp pain at the hip front, deep within the groin. The pain aggravates with time and is followed by the inflammation of bursa, the popped tendon.

External Snapping Hip

External Snapping Hip
External Snapping Hip Syndrome (source)

The most common site of hip snapping syndrome is outside of the hip. A group of connective tissue called the iliotibial band passes over the greater trochanter, a part of the thigh bone that juts out. As you bend the hip, the tissue band shifts over and comes in front of the trochanter causing a snapping sound.

It is caused by either the iliotibial tendon or the gluteus maximus muscle sliding over the greater trochanter. The external snapping hip commonly occurs while running, playing golf, climbing the stairs, carrying heavy loads, etc.

This type of hip popping induces unbearable pain and it might feel like the hip is about to pop out of the socket – but relax it won’t! The painful tenderness in the exterior hip region may suggest that athletes suffer from trochantic bursitis.

Intra-Articular Snapping Hip

Intra-Articulate Snapping Hip
Intra-Articulate Snapping Hip Syndrome (source)

This hip popping condition originates within the hip joint. This hip problem can be caused by the following reasons:

An Acetabular Labral ear
This is an injury to the tough, flexible cartilage that encircles the hip socket, like a gasket. A tear in the cartilage can cause a snapping sensation with pain in the groin area. It is found that acetabular tears account for 80% of intra-articular snapping hip cases.

Injury to the Articular Cartilage
The articular cartilage covers the bones' surfaces where they meet with one another, reducing friction between them at the joint. This cartilage suffer sudden damaged from a traumatic injury or from arthritis over a time.

Presence of Loose tissues
Sloppy or loose tissues in the hip can disturb the normal biomechanics of the hip joint. This can cause a snapping sensation followed by acute pain. For example, following an injury, a bit of bone or soft tissue can break away and get caught between the hip’s ball and socket.

How to Prevent Hip Popping During Exercise

How to prevent hip popping
Stretching Muscles is the Best Way to Prevent Hip popping During Exercise (source)

Hip popping during exercise is mostly because of the snapping hip syndrome. Hip popping without any pain isn’t dangerous but painful snapping of the hip indicates a cartilage tear that needs medical attention.

But before the need of any medical care, how about nipping the popping hip in the bud?

You can prevent the undesired hip popping by improving your hip flexibility and taking measures to maintain it. Stretching before any workout or physical activity is the golden rule. And it applies here as well. Remember to do a hip stretching exercises before other exercises.

Stretch the Hip

Snapping of hip means you have tight hip flexor and rotator group. Lying down on the floor on the back, bend the knee and try to bring it up towards the chest as far as you can. Do not lift the upper body off the ground. Hold the posture for 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat two to four times for each leg.

Increase Hip Flexibility

You should do exercises that increase flexibility in the muscles, called abductors that rings your hips and buttocks. Simply lie down on your back, keeping the knees straight. Now extend your left leg out to your left side as far as possible, keep the toes and the knee pointed towards the ceiling. Hold the position until a tension left on the lower back. Repeat 10 to 20 times before switching legs.

Better flexibility in the abductors will allow smoother movements of the tendons and muscles over the hip joint.

Work on External Rotation

To prevent hip popping during exercise, you need to work on external rotation of the leg. To do so, lie down on your back with one of the knees bent. Keep the sole of the bent leg flat on the ground. Now, slowly rotate the knee down and outside as far as possible. Hold this stretching position for about 30 seconds and slowly rotate the leg back to its original stance. Perform 10 reps for each leg.

Livingit Tip:
While doing this stretch, your legs should form the number 4 or the letter P.

Avoid Repetitive Motion

During exercises like walking, jogging, running, and biking, the repetitive motion triggers snapping hip syndrome caused by overuse of muscles and an inflamed bursitis. Hence, take rest time between workouts to eliminate muscle soreness and noise in the hip joints.

How to Treat a Snapping Hip

When you experience a popping hip, ice and over-the-counter pain killers can ease the associated pain. However, to inhibit the condition from exacerbating, stretching exercises are the only mantra.

Here are a few hip-stretching exercises to treat the hip popping condition.

Illotibial Band Stretch

IT band stretch
Illotibial Band Stretch (source)

The illotibial (IT) band runs diagonally along the outer side of the thigh from the hip to the knee. To stretch the IT muscle, stand up and cross the leg of your injured side over the other leg and bend down to touch the toes. If you are unable to reach your toes, rest your hands on the shin of your leg. Hold the stretched position for about 60 seconds. Perform on the other side as well.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch
Hip Flexor Stretch (source)

The hip flexors are situated on the upper-front of the thigh. These muscles connect to the pelvis. To stretch the hip flexor, take the standing position and place the foot of the uninjured side on a chair and lunge forward. Stretch as far as possible until you feel a stretch along the front edge of the thigh of the affected side. Maintain the stretch for at least 60 seconds before switching sides.

Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis stretch
Piriformis Stretch (source)

The piriformis is a small muscle in the lower back of the body. It connects to the pelvis. To stretch this muscle, lie down on your back with both the knees bent. Move the affected side leg over the other leg, both the legs should cross right up at the knee. Now reach your hands behind the bottom leg's thigh and try pulling it towards your chest. Hold it for 60 seconds before switching sides.

Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch
You Can Do A Hamstring stretch on the Doorway (source)

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of your thighs. To stretch the hamstring muscle, lie down on your back near a doorway and move your buttocks up the wall. Stretch the injured leg up the wall and allow the other leg to extend on the floor. As you stretch, you should feel a gentle pull in the back of the leg extended up the wall. Maintain the posture for 60 seconds. Release slowly and switch sides. In order to stretch the other leg, you will have to shift to the other side of the doorway.

Like most medical conditions, snapping hip syndrome can also be treated. With proper warming up session before a sport or heavy physical activity, the hip popping possibility can be prevented. Try to increase the intensity of the activity or sport gradually.

Follow a good strength and flexibility workout regime and maintain consistency in performing it. Another factor that can help you prevent hip popping during exercises is wearing well-fitting running shoes that are in good condition.

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