Physiotherapist BSc (Hons)
Most runners will experience achy hips towards the end of a long run that disappears once you’ve stopped, but what do you do if it doesn’t go away after a few days of trusty rest?
Introduction to the hip
Hip pain can be a common problem amongst runners, and is often associated with an increase in mileage and intensity.
The hip is a ball and socket joint, the ball being at the top of the thighbone, which moves within the ‘socket’ in the pelvis. Large forces act on the hip joints during running; in standing one third of body weight acts on hip joint and this figure is increased to four times body weight during running. So it’s no wonder that the hip joint and surrounding muscle, ligaments and tendons can be prone to the odd ache after a while.
Causes & symptoms of hip pain
The demands of running can lead to runners being prone to having overactive hip flexors (front of the hip) and weak, underactive gluteal muscles (buttocks). This imbalance over many miles of running can start to cause a few problems and eventually lead to pain.
However, the exact culprit causing the pain can be difficult to pick out, as there are many structures that sit very closely to each other that can be the source of the problem.
There are many possible causes of hip pain in runners, below are some of the more common injuries and their symptoms. This list is in no way exhaustive and it is strongly advisable to seek guidance from a sports physiotherapist to make sure you are targeting the right area.
- Muscle Injuries e.g. hip flexors, tensor fascia lata (TFL), gluteals
Symptoms: usually tight, achy and you can often put your finger on exactly where it hurts
- Joint Pain e.g. osteoarthritis (wear and tear of joint cartilage). It should be noted that there is research to suggest that running is not a prime cause of this. In fact, a number of studies have actually found a lower incidence of osteoarthritis in runners compared to non-runners.
Symptoms: deep dull ache in the hip, buttock or groin that is often stiff in the morning and at the start of exercise
- Groin Injuries e.g. ranging from strains to sportsman’s hernia. It is best to seek professional advice to help with these as if left too long they can become a long-term problem
Symptoms: Sharp or achy and often on the inner thigh region.
- Referred Pain e.g. the source of the pain may not be the hip at all but may be associated with the lower back.
Symptoms: Vague shooting pain that is difficult to pinpoint.
Top tips to help prevent hip injuries
- Strengthen the gluteal muscles to help provide stability to the hip joint so there is less shearing when you run
- Grade your approach to increasing training load or intensity – make sure you only every increase your mileage gradually
- Make sure you wear appropriate running shoes for your foot-type
- Invest in some soft-tissue massage or use a foam-roller / spiky-ball to loosen off muscles if they get tight
- Work on core stability and balance to improve control around the hip and pelvis and reduce any unnecessary loading around the hip
What to do if you have a hip injury
If your hip pain is affecting your running, an assessment by a reputable sports physiotherapist or sports doctor is important to help diagnose the injury and provide you with a specific treatment plan to aid recovery.
There are many possible causes of hip pain in runners. Get on top of your symptoms early by seeking appropriate help to get you back running and achieving your goals as soon as possible.