A painful hip can be through a one off injury but more commonly in clinic we see pain that has come on gradually over a period of months and got worse. Patients describe a deep pain in either their groin or buttock or both and don’t recount a particular event. Their pain tends to vary in severity and is aggravated by certain movements that compress the joint surfaces including prolonged sitting. Often these patients are scanned and the results of the imaging don’t match their pain presentation. Some have a large amount of damage in their hip but are relatively pain free and others are very painful with little to report on the scan.
The majority of patients (regardless of their scan results) have muscular inhibition, as a result of the pain they are in and which we can address with home exercises which almost always helps them with their pain. Patients with painful hips tend to keep going on them until they have picked up a poor movement pattern (limp) which sets off a cascade of events that if you don’t address with treatment and rehabilitation they continue to gradually get worse. Once you are feeling pain the important thing to do initially is to identify the things that aggravate your pain and avoid them. This may sound like common sense but you would be surprised how many people try to push through the pain only to make it worse. For instance, if prolonged sitting is a problem, record how long it takes in sitting for you to get to 4/10 severity and then use this a s a guide to make sure that you don’t exceed this pain threshold in any one day. Do take medication as well. People will not take medication because they think it will numb them so they do not know when they are making things worse. Once you know that without medication you can only sit for 40 mins then once you are taking medication stick to this rule of not sitting for longer than 40 mins for 3 days and then reassess your progress. A person who has had hip pain for a month or longer will normally always have inhibition in their gluteal muscles (buttocks) and adductors (groins). In clinic, we would normally always prescribe exercises to help wake these muscles up. I often suggest a single leg bridge and a ball squeeze as a good place to start. Patients with hip pain also tend to have poor trunk strength, often worse on their painful side so we would also teach a modified plank exercise in three positions to strengthen the natural corset which is so important in stabilising the spine on the pelvis and off-loading the hips. At the same time as addressing muscular inhibition, we also encourage patients to work on their spasm. We often find in clinic if the gluteals and adductors aren’t working properly, their default is to go into spasm to stop you moving which causes you more pain. We find teaching you deep pressure techniques with a foam roller can reduce spasm and pain and be a great thing to do before you do your strengthening rehab. Regarding how much and how often. Obviously most patients are busy people and struggle to get anything done regularly just as some patients can over do it and aggravate things further. Therefore finding a balance is important and listening to your hip and how it is feeling, is of up most importance. I always suggest doing rehab Monday, Wednesday and Friday is a good place to start. The body needs to rest and recover from the strengthening you are doing and normally I say if you are sore (less than 4/10) during the exercises and and/or afterwards, that needs to be monitored and if you haven’t recovered by the next day and you are still 4/10 pain then you are doing too much of the wrong thing for you at that stage. During each rehab session I ask people to repeat each exercise three times until fatigue with a minutes rest between sets. Catching hip pain early and treating it aggressively before you pick up a poor movement pattern is essential for a speedy recovery. Do not leave things for a month before you do something about it. Early intervention is key in managing any injury.
So in summary, the devil is in the detail. We see many patients who make fantastic recoveries from severe hip pain with a huge amount of damage on a scan. The patients who do best are those who catch the pain early and make time to do the rehab properly and listen to their symptoms and don’t train with too much pain. If in doubt and before you start doing the wrong thing it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. You should always get in to see an experienced physio or specialist sports medicine doctor with a special interest in the hip and groin as it is a specialist area and requires often a multi-centred approach. If you would like further information or would like to send us a question please feel free to get in touch and we will help you as much as we can. Douglas Jones
Director, Altius Healthcare