Lateral hip pain is pain that affects the outer side of the hip. Pain in this area can develop suddenly or gradually.
Both injury and overuse can cause pain in the outer hip area. People use their hips constantly while walking, sitting, and moving throughout the day. As a result, hip pain is a common problem.
While outer hip pain may sometimes go away on its own, other cases require the help of a medical professional.
In this article, we look at some of the causes of outer hip pain, as well as treatment and prevention strategies.
Hip pain on the outside of the hip usually occurs because of an issue with one of the following:
- bursa — a fluid filled sac that helps cushion certain bones
These tissues surround the hip joint. Any of them can wear down or become inflamed and cause pain. Bursitis and tendonitis, both overuse injuries, are very common causes of outer hip pain.
Hip pain, including outer hip pain, is common in athletes. Athletes who participate in activities such as running, soccer, and dancing are at risk for hip injuries. However, hip pain can affect people of all ages and activity levels.
Common causes include:
A bursa is a small sac containing fluid. Bursae help cushion and reduce friction between a bone and the overlying soft tissues.
Bursitis is a condition in which the bursa becomes inflamed and irritated.
Trochanteric bursitis involves the bursa that covers the outer aspect of the hip bone. The bursa becomes inflamed, resulting in pain that radiates to the outer thigh.
A tendon is an anatomic structure that connects a muscle to a bone. Tendonitis is a condition that occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed.
A tear in the gluteus medius tendon can also cause outer hip pain. The gluteus medius is the muscle that goes from the buttocks to the hip bone and allows a person to lift their leg to the side.
Injury, overuse, and general wear and tear can lead to gluteus medius tendonitis, a tear in the tendon, or both. Both conditions can cause pain in the outer hip area and, in severe cases, weakness of the hip.
Other causes of outer hip pain include:
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is more likely to affect people over the age of 50 years, particularly females.
- Obesity: Carrying a higher amount of body weight places more pressure on the joints in the lower body. Fat cells also promote inflammation. These factors may lead to hip pain or conditions such as osteoarthritis.
- Injury: A traumatic injury, whether from a fall or other accident, can cause outer hip pain.
- Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI): A condition in which the hip joint is unable to move freely. FAI affects the hip’s normal range of motion.
- Referred back pain: A lower back problem may cause pain to radiate to the outer hip, as well as the buttocks, the back of the leg, and, sometimes, the front of the hip.
Certain activities can aggravate hip pain, including:
- lying on the side of the body
- crossing the legs
- sitting down, especially if people tuck their feet underneath them
- standing or leaning on one leg
- walking uphill or up the stairs
- climbing in or out of a car or bath
A doctor will perform a physical exam to determine the cause of outer hip pain. They may also order one or more diagnostic tests.
These tests may include:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- blood tests to check for infection or rheumatoid arthritis
Treatment for outer hip pain usually involves physical therapy and pain management strategies. People may control pain with:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- ice for the relief of pain and swelling after physical activity
- corticosteroid injections
Some examples of strengthening and stretching exercises for outer hip pain include:
- Marching in place: Bring the knees up toward the chest without bringing the thigh higher than a 90-degree angle.
- Hip abduction: Hold onto a chair and lift the left sideways without rotating at the hip. Hold for several seconds, then lower the leg slowly.
- Hip extension: Hold onto a chair or other surface and move the leg backward without bending the knee. Flex the buttock and hold for several seconds.
- Heel to bottom: From a standing position, bend the leg behind the body, bringing the heel toward the buttock. Keep the hips in line with the shoulders, and keep the knees in line with each other.
- Bridge: Lie on the back with the knees bent and the flat feet. Lift the pelvis and lower back. Hold the position for several seconds, then slowly lower down.
A person performing any of the above exercises should stop if they feel sharp or increasing pain in the hip joint.
A medical professional or physical therapist can provide advice on which exercises and stretches are appropriate depending on the cause of hip pain.
People may also find relief by altering how they sleep, sit, and stand. If hip pain occurs at night, sleeping on one side or the back may help reduce discomfort.
Sitting for too long or in an awkward position, such as cross-legged, can also worsen hip pain.
Although it is uncommon, people may sometimes require surgery for outer hip pain, depending on the underlying cause.
People should seek medical attention if their hip pain is the result of a severe injury.
A doctor can help diagnose and treat the issue if the pain does not go away, gets worse, or begins to affect regular activities and sleep.
A doctor should also evaluate pain that spreads to other areas, such as the lower back.
People with pain that does not ease after 2 weeks of taking NSAIDs should make an appointment with a doctor to find alternative forms of relief.
Anyone who finds that stretching and strengthening exercises cause soreness that lasts longer than a few days should also see a doctor.
Treating the underlying cause of outer hip pain, such as injury or infection, can help treat the pain.
Aging can also cause various aches and pains, including outer hip pain. However, hip pain should not have a negative effect on a person’s regular daily activities.
Strategies and treatment options are available for people with outer hip pain. Total relief from all pain, however, may take some time.
People may be able to avoid reoccurring outer hip pain by:
- allowing adequate rest and recovery after rigorous physical activity
- losing weight, if appropriate
- sticking to a strengthening and stretching program
- wearing flat shoes and proper footwear for exercise
Outer hip pain, which often results from overuse, can be uncomfortable and even debilitating. Sometimes, the pain is enough to prevent everyday activities and disturb sleep.
It can be difficult to rest the affected hip completely, but limiting vigorous exercise and avoiding movements that cause pain can aid the healing process.
If pain persists beyond 2 weeks, a person should consult a doctor. They can diagnose the cause of the outer hip pain and find the right treatment plan.