Why does my hip make a popping or snapping sound?

By Sydney CBD Osteopath Dr Abbey Davidson

Do you experience snapping hips or deep hip popping sounds? You may have a condition called Snapping Hip Syndrome! What is snapping hip syndrome? What causes your hips to snap and pop? What are the symptoms of snapping hip syndrome? What to do right now if your hips snap? How do osteopaths and physiotherapists treat snapping hip syndrome? How long until snapping hip syndrome gets better? All of your questions related to snapping hip syndrome discussed below.

What is snapping hip syndrome?

Anatomy of the hip joint including muscles/tendons involved in snapping hip syndrome
Source: Beth Ohara

Snapping hip syndrome which is most common between 15 and 40 years of age is also called “Dancer’s Hip”. This is because as dancers and athletes commonly experience this condition due to repetitive physically demanding motions placed on the hips. Snapping hip syndrome results in an impressive deep sounding pop or snap originating in or around the hip joint; usually when the hip is flexed or extended (leg lifted or lowered).

Snapping hip syndrome can be broken down into three categories (external, internal and intra-articular). External snapping hip is the most common; and involves the ITB band flicking over the hip bone (greater trochanter of femur). Internal involved the iliopsoas tendon (hip flexor) snapping or flicking over the boney prominences of the pelvis or hip (AIIS, lesser trochanter or iliopectineal ridge). Intra-articular snapping hip syndrome is the least common and occurs when cartilage within the hip joint is torn or has a flap which cause locking and popping sounds as the femoral head (hip bone) moves within the hip joint.

It is important to distinguish that snapping hip syndrome is not like “joint cracking”. When a joint cavitates gas escapes from the joint causing an audible sound. It then takes approximately  20 minutes for these gasses to regenerate therefore it will be another 20 minutes before you can get a “crack” out of the same joint. Snapping hip syndrome is due to tendons or cartilage flicking over bone and sound can be produced repetitively without the need to wait for gas to regenerate.  Check out our blog on what is joint cracking? This explains what joint clicking and popping is and why osteopaths and chiropractors use joint manipulation as a therapeutic technique.

Causes of snapping hip syndrome:

Snapping hip syndrome occurs in about 10% of people; with females more commonly effected than men. Common causes of snapping hip syndrome include:

  • Repetitive hip motions (dancing, gymnastic, soccer, weightlifting, running)
  • Overuse
  • Trauma
  • Poor leg mechanics (foot, ankle, knee, hip)

If you are concerned you may have snapping hip syndrome and want some further information we recommend seeking the advice of a trained health professional. An osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor will be able to appropriately diagnose and provide you care advice.

Symptoms of snapping hip syndrome:

With Snapping Hip Syndrome common sign and symptoms can include:

Repetitive Snapping hip syndrome can result in hip pain
Source: Injurymap
  • Sensation of snapping or popping (repetitive)
  • Audible popping or snapping sound (repetitive)
  • Weakness in hip movement (flexion or extension)
  • Tightness around hip region
  • Discomfort/pain  

Snapping hip syndrome is most often not a painful condition. It can be present for years without progressing to notably painful levels. However, episodes of highly repetitive click/popping can cause irritation of tendons or bursa within the region. The clicking/popping sensation can become an annoyance during daily activities. In these situations we recommend being assessed by your physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

What you can do right now for snapping hip syndrome?

If your snapping hip is starting to become a daily annoyance, is preventing you from performing some daily activities or is becoming painful try rest, ice, stretch and strengthen the area.

Rest – avoid activities which produce repetitive popping of the hip. This can lead to inflammation of tendons, muscle or bursa around the area. Avoiding repetitive clicking/popping at the hip such as dancing, running, kicking, etc. allows opportunity for friction to decrease and encourages healing.

Ice – If your snapping hip has progressed to giving you discomfort or pain applying ice (20 minute duration, avoiding direct skin contact) can help in decreasing pain and inflammation. Alternatively applying anti-inflammatory gel is an option.  

Stretch – Some relief can be found by lengthening your hip flexors, ITB (Iliotibial Band), glute medius and TFL (tensor fasciae latae). Static stretching, foam rolling and myofascial release balls are all appropriate options.  Static stretching should be held for a minimum of 30-60 seconds

Strengthening – Exercises which strengthen the muscles around the hip, low back and knee can help with snapping hip syndrome. Your physiotherapist or osteopath can provide you with individualised prescriptions . If your Snapping hip is causing you tendon related pain; eccentric strengthening exercises (tendon/muscle lengthened under load) are shown to be super effective.

Physio and osteo treatment for snapping hip syndrome

Abbey Davidson Osteopath assesses a hip for snapping or popping

Your physiotherapist or osteopath will ask questions and appropriately assess the area. They will perform a bunch of special tests and assess the range of motion and strength you have. Once they have a clear idea what is going on they will spend time educating you on your condition and what you can do to resolve it as soon as possible. If your physio or osteo has any questions about what is going on at your hip you may be sent for further imaging of the area (e.g. MRI or X-Ray).

Hands on therapy will aim to decrease muscle tension around the area, improve range or motion around the hip, knees and ankles and reduce any pain you may have. Your physio or osteo will focus on education; teaching you how to best manage your symptoms and prescribing you specific stretches and strengthening exercises.

Surgery is an absolute last resort for snapping hip syndrome. Surgical intervention is usually only considered after having little success with conservative therapy (physiotherapy or osteopathy).

How long until snapping hip syndrome gets better?

Time until recovery for a painful snapping hip syndrome can be highly variable. If the pain is due to tendon or bursa structures you can expect a 6-12 week period until recovery. There is a chance that the snapping or popping sound may never resolved depending on the exact cause of your snapping hip syndrome. If your snapping hip syndrome isn’t stopping you from performing activities or causing you pain/discomfort then there is no need for concern or intense therapy. If your hip is becoming painful and limiting the activities you love it is definitely indicated to seek professional help.

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