Hip Joint Stiffness Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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Hip joint stiffness symptoms
When a hip joint becomes stiff, painful, and hard to move, it is difficult to leave it be and work around it. The back and the knees, especially, end up taking on extra strain and can be severely affected. Even staying completely still may not provide relief.
However, there are effective treatments and therapy for most conditions that cause stiffness and pain in the hip. Your medical provider can refer you to a specialist if needed.
Hip joint stiffness may also be called ankylosis of the hip.
Common characteristics of hip joint stiffness
Hip joint stiffness can commonly be described by the following details.
- Difficulty with movement: You may have trouble forcing the hip joints to flex or move, especially after sitting or lying down for a while.
- Varying pain levels: Pain may range from mild to severe, and may be felt in the groin and thigh as well as the hip.
- Inflammation: Heat and swelling in the hip joint may occur.
- Spreading symptoms: Other joints, especially the neck and back, may also be affected.
- Pain with exercise: This pain may be severe enough to interfere with walking. However, it may worsen after resting and improve with mild exercise. Although, heavy exercise usually causes pain as well.
Duration of symptoms
Your hip joint stiffness may be short- or long-term depending on the cause.
- Acute form: If there is a sudden severe injury, the pain will happen immediately and stiffness will continue after healing.
- Chronic form: Symptoms come on gradually, following a minor injury or the onset of disease, and may continue for years with little change even when treated.
Who is most often affected?
People who are most likely to experience hip stiffness include the following:
- People who have had a hip joint injury or disease
- People who have had a total hip replacement
- Anyone over age 50
- Anyone with Down syndrome
When is it most likely to occur?
Hip joint stiffness is more likely to occur in the morning or after getting up if you were seated for a long time.
Is hip joint stiffness serious?
Hip joint stiffness may vary in severity depending on the cause.
- Not serious: Mild stiffness that occurs after heavy exercise, but goes away after a day or two of rest is not serious.
- Moderately serious: Increasing pain and stiffness, even with treatment indicates a moderately serious condition.
- Serious: Any suspicion of a hip fracture is considered serious.
Hip joint stiffness causes
Many conditions can cause the symptom of hip joint stiffness. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common.
Abnormal fusing and stiffening of a joint can occur due to the body's attempt to protect it after damage. Injury or disease processes can cause this to occur in the hip.
Cartilage wear or destruction
Destruction of the cartilage lining the joint can occur due to:
- Wear-and-tear: This is especially likely if there is some slight malformation of the joint that predisposes it to wear.
- Inflammation: This may be caused by any of several types of autoimmune disease.
Damage to the hip bursa
The hip joint is formed by the ball at the top of the thigh bone that fits into the socket of the pelvic bone. The outside of the ball has a tendon, the iliotibial band, running down it. There is a bursa, or cushion, under the iliotibial band.
- Injury: The bursa may become injured through direct trauma, leading to a condition called bursitis.
- Tight iliotibial (IT) band: The bursa is pressed against the bone, causing inflammation, pain, and difficulty moving. Prolonged sitting and a lack of fitness can leave the band short and tight instead of stretched and flexible. Pain and stiffness may travel to the knee, where the iliotibial band attaches at its other end.
Stiffness may follow hip replacement surgery due to the following below. However, even with successful surgery, some stiffness may remain.
- Wear of replacement parts: If this occurs, another replacement may be needed.
- Additional bone growth: In a few patients, an overgrowth of bone may form around the replacement parts. Further treatment or surgery will be needed.
Formation of scar tissue
Formation of fibrous scar tissue in the soft tissues around the hip joint can lead to stiffness and may be caused by:
- Traumatic injury
- Damage following a disease process
- Inflammation from autoimmune disease
Rare and unusual causes
Certain rare causes of hip joint stiffness may include the following:
- Down syndrome: Tightness and tension in the hips may be compensation for muscle weakness commonly found elsewhere in the body in people with Down syndrome.
- Inflammation from unknown causes: Sudden, severe inflammation of hip joints and muscles can even sometimes spread to the neck and shoulder.
- Tumors: A cancerous growth within any joint can cause swelling and stiffness.
We've listed some specific conditions that can cause hip joint stiffness, along with how to identify each of them.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Arthritis of the hip is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hip. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Hip arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.
Top Symptoms: hip pain, difficulty walking, pain in one hip, limping, groin pain
Symptoms that always occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis: hip pain
Symptoms that never occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis: severe hip pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att..
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis..
"Ankylosing" means a joint has become stiffened and fixed in one position due to injury or disease. "Spondylitis" means inflammation in the joints of the spine. In ankylosing spondylitis, inflammation has damaged the vertebrae of the low back and caused a form of arthrit..
Septic arthritis is also called infectious arthritis. "Arthritis" simply means inflammation of a joint. In septic arthritis, the inflammation is caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. The most common is Staphylococcus aureus or staph. These agents reach the joints either from ..
Hip joint stiffness treatments and relief
As long as your hip joint stiffness or associated pain is not severe or debilitating, treatment can begin at home. However, if stiffness persists, you should consult your physician.
Various treatments can be tried at home to try to alleviate your hip stiffness.
- Walking aids: You may choose to use a cane or walker to help with getting around for activities of daily living.
- Mild regular exercise: You can try low-impact exercises such as walking, yoga, or swimming.
- Stretching exercises: This may be especially helpful for a tight iliotibial band.
- Lifestyle changes: You can make adjustments in your diet, sleep habits, and work on stress management to improve overall health.
You should consult your physician in order to discuss the following:
- If your stiffness persists despite rest
- Possible physical therapy
Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 for the following
If you cannot move or bear weight on the hip at all, this may be a hip fracture, which can actually be life-threatening in the elderly.
FAQs about hip joint stiffness
Does osteoporosis (bone thinning) cause stiffness of the hip?
No. At first, osteoporosis causes no outward symptoms at all. Once the disease has progressed, later symptoms may include pain once the bones have become weakened enough to sustain stress fractures. Osteoporosis can be especially serious in the hip because of the hip's weight-bearing function. The bone can actually give way under the body's own weight.
Does hip joint pain and stiffness always lead to hip replacement surgery?
No, not always. Hip replacement surgery is most often done to replace a joint severely damaged by arthritis, and people nearly always see great improvement in their quality of life. Hip replacement is also done in cases of ankylosis (spontaneous fusing of bone after injury or disease) and in cases where trauma has directly damaged the joint.
Does sciatica cause hip joint stiffness?
Sciatica is a general term for shooting pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, in the low back. Sciatica does not usually affect the hip; however, a condition called piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle in the low back becomes inflamed and presses on the sciatic nerve. This causes pain, numbness, and tingling, but not stiffness.
Does hip joint stiffness always mean arthritis?
No. A number of other conditions can cause stiffness without involving loss of cartilage in the joint (arthritis). A previous traumatic injury with resulting damage and scar tissue; one of many autoimmune diseases, which cause inflammation; and short, tight hip muscles and tendons due to loss of fitness can all cause hip joint stiffness.
Does fibromyalgia cause hip joint stiffness?
Fibromyalgia is a type of autoimmune disease. It causes chronic musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, exhaustion and sleep disturbance, headaches, anxiety and depression, and stiffness in the joints and muscles. The pain is believed to be caused by inflammation and may come and go in intensity. Stiffness may appear in any joint in the body.
Questions your doctor may ask about hip joint stiffness
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Do you have multiple joints that are stiff?
- Have you had any changes in your weight?
- Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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- Inflammatory arthritis of the hip. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated July 2014. OrthoInfo Link
- Bursitis of the hip. FamilyDoctor.org. Updated November 7, 2017. FamilyDoctor.org Link
- Sheon RP. Tendinitis (bursitis). American College of Rheumatology. Published May 2015. ACOR Link
- Crawford RW, Murray DW. Total hip replacement: Indications for surgery and risk factors for failure. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 1997;56:455-7. BMJ Link
- Amar E, Sharfman ZT, Rath E. Heterotopic ossification after hip arthroscopy. Journal of Hip Preservation Surgery. 2015;2(4):355-363. NCBI Link
- Galli M, Rigoldi C, Brunner R, Virji-Babul N, Giorgio A. Joint stiffness and gait pattern evaluation in children with down syndrome. Gait & Posture. 2008;28(3):502-6. NCBI Link
- Osteoporosis and arthritis: Two common but different conditions. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Updated May 2016. NIH Link
- Ma CB. Piriformis syndrome. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated November 27, 2016. MedlinePlus Link
- Kodner C. Common Questions About the Diagnosis and Management of Fibromyalgia. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Apr 1;91(7):472-478. AAFP Link