Suffering from hip and leg pain can be debilitating and life altering. Thankfully modern medical science offers a variety of ways to diagnose and treat hip and leg pain. Alternative medical practices are also available and, while not for everyone, can yield great results for some. If you’re experiencing hip pain or leg pain, here’s what may be causing it and treatments that could work.
Where do people typically feel hip and leg pain?
Hip and leg pain can be felt all over the limb, even if the symptoms originate in the hip. You may experience pain:
- In your groin region
- In your lower back
- On the outside of the hip
- In your buttocks
- Radiating into your thighs
- Down the backs of your legs
- Down the side of your leg into your knee
Trauma, such as a car accident or sports injury, contributes to hip and leg pain as well. Because the body’s systems are intricately interconnected, an injury to the knee can cause degenerative issues or pain in the hip, and vise versa.
It can seem overwhelming, especially if your pain is in a variety of places. However, injuries tend to cause pain in specific areas. While their symptoms can be similar, carefully monitoring your symptoms can help with a speedy diagnosis.
What are the most common causes of hip and leg pain?
Hip and leg pain can stem from numerous causes and range from mild, intermittent pain, to debilitating pain that prevents you from getting out of bed. Sudden trauma or slow degeneration from a disease like arthritis or simply age also cause hip and leg pain.
Common causes of hip and leg pain include:
- Bruised hips
- Hip arthritis
- SI joint dysfunction
- Muscle or tendon tension
Bruised hips, also called a “hip pointer,” occurs after a trauma such as a car accident or sports injury. The bruise forms when landing hard on the point of the hip (known as the iliac crest).
A bruised hip will generally have:
- Visible bruising on the skin
- Tenderness focused in the affected area
It may also cause a reduced range of motion and general weakness in your hip and leg.
There are several types of arthritis that can affect the hip and knee, including:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Septic arthritis
The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is when the joint breaks down and rheumatoid arthritis is the inflammation of the joint.
Arthritis pain increases over time as the disease progresses, so timely diagnosis is critical. It’s generally felt on the inside of the hip, around the groin. Your hips or knees may also feel stiff, inflexible, and may make a grating or cracking sound.
Bursitis is similar to arthritis but affects the hip joints bursa. The bursa is a sack of fluid that protects the joint but can become inflamed. Typical causes are another injury or even a pinched nerve.
Bursitis pain is generally felt low on the outside of the hip. It can come on quite suddenly or get worse:
- When sitting
- When lying on your side
- After physical activity
Your sciatic nerve branches down from your lower back through your hips, buttocks, and down each leg. The nerve can become pinched or inflamed due to:
- A herniated disc
- Bone spurs
- Spine narrowing
- Muscle tension
Sciatica pain can vary widely. You may feel tingling and numbness, burning, sharp, stabbing, throbbing, and jolting, but typically only affects one side. While you can feel discomfort all along the nerve, the pain tends to focus on the path from your lower back down the back of your leg.
SI joint dysfunction
SI joint pain is a chronic lower back condition caused by damage to the SI (sacroiliac) joint, which is located in the middle of the hips, near the spine. It connects the hips to the pelvis.
You’ll likely feel SI joint pain near the center of the lower back at the top of the buttock. You may also feel pain in the groin, the buttocks, or radiating down the back of the thighs. Pain from SI joint dysfunction can start suddenly due to a trauma or develop very slowly over time due to degeneration.
Muscle or tendon tension
Finally, playing sports or over-exercising is typically the cause of muscle or tendon tension. Muscle and tendon pain ranges from sharp, stabbing pain to pain that is only present when the muscle or tendon is touched. A tight IT band, for example, which runs along the outside of the thigh, typically won’t cause pain unless you touch it.
Muscle or tendon tension usually resolves in a few days. You can easily treat this kind of pain at home through routine massage, stretching, or foam rolling. Be sure to consult your doctor if your pain continues for longer than a week.
How does a doctor diagnose hip and leg pain?
Diagnosing hip and leg pain can be complex because of the variety of possible causes, similar symptoms, and intricacy of the hip joint. To best help your doctor diagnose your hip and leg pain, keep a detailed journal or tracking app that describes your symptoms over time.
Include information about:
- When your pain started
- Where you felt it
- What the pain felt like
For example, you might describe a sharp, stabbing pain on the outside of your thigh that occurs only after sleeping on your side and a general tingling sensation and numbness that is constant in the same area.
If you have self-treated through stretching, massage, or alternative therapies, be sure to indicate in your journal if these treatments were helpful in reducing your pain and for how long.
To diagnose your hip and leg pain, your doctor will use your notes and personal history, along with a physical exam and possibly several tests.
Information like a past injury, trauma, and family history can help your doctor diagnose your hip and leg pain. If you have a family member with arthritis, you’ll be more likely to also have arthritis. Age, medications, other illnesses, and life choices can also have an effect on your diagnosis.
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination to help them better understand the cause of your pain. This means they will likely physically test several areas where you indicate that you have pain, such as testing tenderness on the outside of your hip or mobility of the hip joint when walking or sitting.
It’s possible your doctor can reach a diagnosis without using imaging or lab tests. However, it may be necessary for them to conduct additional tests to positively diagnose your hip and leg pain.
An X-ray can be helpful in diagnosing bone spurs or osteoarthritis, but you’ll need an MRI to diagnose issues with muscles and tendons, including bursitis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed through blood tests or by taking a sample of joint fluid to test. If your hip and leg pain is caused by swollen joints in the hip, removing some of this fluid for testing can also alleviate pain.
What are common hip and leg pain treatments?
Treatment for hip and leg pain varies depending on the cause and severity of your pain, but there are several treatment options available. Always consult with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs.
Common treatment options include:
- Lifestyle changes
- Physical therapy
- Weight loss program (to reduce pressure on joints)
- Hip and leg stretches
- Medication or herbal supplements
- Chiropractic adjustment
- Interventional procedures, for more severe cases
If your hip and leg pain is associated with a physical activity like a sport, try temporarily stopping that activity to see if your hip and leg pain improves.
Keep a journal of your pain with and without the activity and share your findings with your doctor to help diagnose the cause of your hip and leg pain.
Depending on the type of hip and leg pain you have, physical therapy may help reduce your pain. It may help strengthen the muscles in your hip and leg to offer better support and stabilization.
Always consult with a physician before beginning a physical therapy regime.
Weight loss program
If you have unexplained hip and leg pain and you are overweight or obese, a weight loss program could help reduce your pain by relieving stress on your hips and legs.
Avoid extreme dieting and ensure you aren’t compromising your health by consulting with your doctor to find the program that’s best for you.
Hip and leg stretches
You may experience hip and leg pain due to tight muscles or tendons. Routinely stretching these muscles or rolling them out with a foam roller can sometimes help relieve pain.
When stretching and using a foam roller, make sure that you:
- Stay consistent
- Keep a diary of how you feel
- Make sure the activity doesn’t cause more pain
Foam rolling can be painful at first, so make sure you pick a foam roller that’s the right firmness for your experience.
The experts at REI have some tips on picking a foam roller in their article How to Choose Foam Rollers.
Medication or herbal supplements
Depending on the type and severity of pain, your doctor may prescribe you pain medication or muscle relaxers. There are also a number of herbal supplements available that can assist in hip and leg pain, including:
- Green tea
Always talk to your doctor before adding any herbal supplements into your routine.
Tight or knotted muscles can put pressure on joints and nerves, causing pain. If your hip and leg pain is the result of muscle tension, regular massages can be highly beneficial.
While not a cure, chiropractic adjustment has been shown to help relieve pain in cases of hip arthritis, sciatica, and inflammation. During this process, the chiropractor focuses on adjusting your bones to relieve pain. The following video can help if you’re new to chiropractic adjustment.
This practice dates back to ancient China and relieves pain caused by arthritis and musculature issues.
Some physical therapists use a variation of this called dry needling to stimulate or discourage muscle firing.
Interventional procedures for hip and leg pain
If less invasive procedures haven’t helped with your hip and leg pain, talk to your doctor about more advanced treatments.
These may include:
Stem cells, in particular, are an exciting new treatment option. When injected into a damaged joint, stem cells can aid in the repair of several injuries such as damaged cartilage, tendons, and muscles. Stem cell injections are still a relatively new treatment and aren’t appropriate for every situation. Discuss if this treatment is right for you with your doctor.
If you are experiencing hip and leg pain that lasts more than a week and isn’t remedied by at home treatments like massage or stretching, a pain specialist may be able to help. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.