Hip pain when walking is common. Causes include damage to the muscles, tendons, bones, or nerves around the hip, and chronic conditions such as arthritis.

A person can work with a doctor to figure out the cause of their hip pain and get the right treatment. The diagnosis and treatment will depend on which part of the hip hurts and the person’s medical history.

People of all ages can experience hip pain, although many conditions associated with chronic pain occur in older adults.

In this article, we look at the different causes of hip pain when walking and ways to reduce or prevent the pain.

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Hip pain when walking is a common problem, according to a 2015 study. It is usually caused by problems in the following areas:

Muscles, tendons, and joints

Arthritis

Arthritis is a major cause of hip pain when walking. There are over 100 types of arthritis and people of all ages can develop it.

Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are types of arthritis that affect the joints.

Arthritis typically causes an ache and stiffness in the affected area.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis. It is caused by cartilage between the bones breaking down, which eventually allows the bones to rub together.

This can cause pain, stiffness and reduced movement. A person with OA in the hip may also feel pain in the groin, buttocks, and sometimes on the inside of the knee or thigh.

Treatments for OA include:

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when a person’s immune system is not working properly and attacks the joints.

A person with RA in the hip may experience pain, stiffness, and swelling in the hip, thigh, or groin. It usually affects both hips.

Treatments for RA include:

  • NSAIDs
  • immunosuppressant therapy
  • hot and cold treatments
  • topical products like gels, creams, and patches
  • a balance of rest and exercise

Tendinitis

Tendons are the tissues that connect skeletal muscle to bone.

When tendons are inflamed, they can become swollen, irritated, or painful. This condition is called tendinitis, and is often caused by injury or overuse of the tendons.

A person with tendinitis may feel a dull ache where the tendon and bone meet.

Treatments for tendinitis include:

  • rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE)
  • physical or occupational therapy
  • splints, braces, or slings
  • pain relieving medication, such as an NSAID
  • corticosteroid injections
  • surgery

Iliotibial band tightness

The iliotibial (IT) band is made up of fascia fibers that run from the lateral hip to the top of the shin.

The IT band can tighten if overused, causing inflammation and pain. It most often causes pain in the knee when bending, with referred pain in the hip.

Treatments for IT band tightness include:

  • applying ice
  • massage
  • cryotherapy
  • pain relieving medication, such as an NSAID
  • rest

Bursitis

Small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae reduce friction between muscles, bones, and tendons around joints. When the bursae become inflamed it is called bursitis.

A person with bursitis will feel pain near the affected joint. A person may develop bursitis if they overuse their muscles.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, bursitis commonly affects the hips, which may be tender and ache during movement.

Treatments for bursitis include:

  • rest
  • hot and cold treatments
  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID
  • exercise
  • physical therapy
  • splints and braces
  • surgery

Hip labral tear

Labral tears can affect the labrum, which is a ring of cartilage that helps to keep the head (ball) of the femur in place in the acetabulum (socket) of the pelvis.

Labral tears are a major cause of pain in people with symptomatic hip dysplasia. A person with a hip labral tear will feel pain across the entire hip and may experience a clicking sound and locking or a shifty feeling in the joint.

Treatments for labral tears include:

  • rest
  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID
  • physical therapy
  • corticosteroid injections
  • surgery

Hip flexor strain

Hip flexor strain can occur when the hip flexor muscles, which connect the femur to the lower back and hip, are injured or strained. This can make it harder to move your knee and thigh upwards to your chest.

A person will usually feel a cramping or pain in the upper leg and a tugging feeling in the thighs and groin.

Treatments for hip flexor strain include:

  • rest
  • hot and cold treatments
  • stretching
  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID

Sprain or strain

Sprains or strains can happen when a person overuses the muscles and ligaments in their hips and legs. A person may feel a sharp pain that gets worse with activity.

Treatments for sprains and strains include:

  • rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE)
  • hot and cold treatments
  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID

Toxic synovitis

Toxic synovitis is an inflammatory condition of the hip joint that primarily affects children. A person with toxic synovitis may feel pain spreading across the hip area that may increase when bearing weight.

Treatments for toxic synovitis include rest and pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID.

Bone causes

Avascular necrosis (osteonecrosis)

Avascular necrosis, also called osteonecrosis, limits or stops blood flow to the hip joint and other joints. A person with this condition may feel a dull or throbbing ache in the hip that may spread to the groin.

Treatments for avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis include:

  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAID
  • physical therapy
  • immobilization of the joint with a splint or brace
  • the use of crutches
  • surgery

Fracture (break)

According to a 2014 study, most people fracture their hip joint because of a fall. Risk factors for hip fractures include low levels of activity, low bone density, and long-term medication use.

A person with a hip joint fracture will feel pain in the groin and may not be able to put weight on the affected side.

Treatments for a fractured hip joint include:

  • rehabilitation therapy
  • physical therapy
  • surgery

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis condition causes brittle, weak bones. According to a 2002 study, bone fractures can affect almost any bone because of osteoporosis.

A person may feel severe, sudden pain in the hip that worsens with movement.

Treatment of osteoporosis includes:

  • weight-bearing exercise
  • increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • osteoporosis treatment medication

Joint effusion

Joints contain a small amount of fluid. When a joint is affected by arthritis, especially an inflammatory type such as rheumatoid arthritis, fluid can build up in the joint and cause swelling.

A person with joint effusion may feel associated pain that ranges from mild to sharp.

Treatments for joint effusion include:

  • physical therapy
  • fluid aspiration
  • NSAIDs

Dislocation

Hip dislocation happens when the femur slips out of place in the hip socket. According to a 2018 study, a person should seek and receive treatment within 6 hours of the injury to avoid further damage.

A person who has dislocated their hip may feel severe pain, and the hip joint may feel loose and unsteady.

Treatments for dislocation include a closed reduction, which involves a doctor carefully applying force to put the hip back into its socket, or an open reduction, which involves a doctor cutting into the joint, removing excess bone or tissue, and re-positioning bones.

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis of the hip is an inflammatory bone disease typically caused by microorganisms infecting the bone(s) of the hip joint. It leads to progressive bone destruction and loss.

A person may experience related muscle spasms and deep, aching pain in the pelvis and/or upper leg.

The type of treatment a person will have depends on the type of osteomyelitis.

Treatment for acute osteomyelitis includes antibiotics or antifungal medication.

Treatment for sub-acute osteomyelitis, or chronic osteomyelitis, includes:

Nerve damage

Nerve problems near the hip joint can also cause pain in the hip when walking.

Pinched nerve

A pinched (entrapped) nerve can occur in the hip region. A nerve can be pinched by bones, tendons, or ligaments, which causes nerve signals to be irritated by pressure or friction.

A person may experience sharp pain in the thigh, buttocks, groin, and hip, as well as reduced ability in movement, numbness, or tingling.

Treatments include:

  • rest
  • stretching
  • NSAIDs
  • hot and cold treatments

Sciatica

Sciatica refers to pain caused by irritation to the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is a symptom rather than a condition. This means a person should work with a doctor to find the cause of sciatica to improve their symptoms.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body and runs from the buttock to the feet.

A person may feel mild to severe pain that can be felt in the buttock, hip, and legs.

Treatments for sciatica include:

Sacroiliitis

Sacroiliitis refers to inflammation where the sacral spine joins the pelvis bone, which usually causes pain that may worsen with standing or walking.

Treatments for sacroiliitis includes:

  • rest
  • hot and cold treatments
  • pain treatment medication, such as an NSAIDs
  • corticosteroid injections
  • surgery

How a person reduces their hip pain when walking will depend on the cause of the pain.

Some problems may improve on their own, but others may need medical treatment such as surgery or pain relief injections.

Some problems may benefit from home treatments and hip exercises.

These can include:

  • prescribed or over-the-counter pain relief medication
  • weight management
  • massage therapy
  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic adjustments
  • muscle relaxers
  • a cane or crutches

Hip pain when walking is a common ailment, but is linked to various causes. It may not be preventable if linked to a chronic illness, such as arthritis or osteoporosis.

If hip pain occurs due to bad posture while sitting or inactivity, people may prevent it by stretching, adjusting posture, and weight management.

A person should contact a doctor if they have experienced hip pain for longer than two days, if they have had a fall or injury, or if their pain is severe or getting worse.

A person should also see a doctor if their pain is stopping them from performing everyday tasks like climbing stairs.

Hip pain when walking is common. It can occur due to a variety of conditions or injuries that involve the muscles, bones, or nerves surrounding the hip.

Treatment will depend on the cause of a person’s hip pain. A person can improve hip pain when walking with rest, exercise, pain relieving medication, physical therapy, or, in some cases, surgery.