When to See a Doctor for Hip Pain

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Severe hip pain
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As the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body, the hip enables you to stand, sit, walk and run. But when inflammation or injury strikes, the ensuing hip pain can inhibit mobility and decrease your quality of life. Hip pain can be caused by injury, such as a broken hip, inflammatory conditions like arthritis, or many other conditions. If your hip pain becomes chronic or causes you to reduce your activity level, it may be time to visit an orthopedic doctor to get a diagnosis and learn about treatment options.

Common Causes of Hip Pain

Hip pain usually arises due to injury or inflammation in or around the joint. The most common causes of hip pain include:

Rarely, hip pain can be caused by a cancer, such as leukemia, or infection, such as osteomyelitis.

The location of your hip pain often can tell your doctor a great deal about what is causing it. For example, hip pain when climbing stairs may indicate sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Hip pain after sitting might be caused by trochanteric bursitis—inflammation of a bursa located on the outer point (the outer ridge near the top of the femur) of the hip.

Hip Pain Treatment at Home

When hip pain is mild, or if it comes and goes, you might be able to treat it at home and find relief. Try these home remedies for hip pain:

  • Applying heat with a heating pad (take care to use the low setting and to place a barrier, such as a towel, between the pad and your skin to avoid a burn)

  • Applying ice, alternating between 20 minutes with the ice pack on followed by 20 minutes with the pack off

  • Hydrotherapy including either taking a hot shower or soaking in a hot tub or whirlpool. At home, you can add Epsom salts to a warm bath for added benefit.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin or naproxen sodium (Aleve)

  • Resting the hip including avoiding activities that make the pain worse. Avoid sleeping on your side. If you routinely sleep on your side, use a firm pillow between your knees to help align your hips.

  • Stretching exercises for the lower back and hip area

If hip pain comes on suddenly and severely, or if home remedies don’t alleviate the pain within a week, you should seek medical attention.

When to See a Doctor for Hip Pain

In certain situations, you should seek immediate medical attention for hip pain. Call 911 if:

  • You cannot bear weight on the hip joint

  • The joint appears deformed

  • You cannot move the affected leg

  • Your toes begin to turn blue or feel numb

  • You experience sudden, severe swelling in the hip or associated leg

  • You have a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit along with the hip pain

  • The pain is severe

For milder cases of hip pain that linger over the course of weeks, you should consult your primary care provider or an orthopedic physician to receive a diagnosis and obtain treatment options. Professional medical care for even mild conditions can keep the problem from worsening and help prevent complications.

Who to See for Hip Pain

If your hip pain does not respond to home remedies, you should consider consulting an orthopedic specialist for an evaluation. Keep in mind some insurance companies require a referral before seeing a specialist, so you can start with your primary care provider if necessary. Chiropractors also may be able to pinpoint the cause of your hip pain. As part of your treatment, you may work with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles that support your hip and lower back.

Left untreated, hip pain can progress from annoying to debilitating. Avoiding activity because of pain can lead to additional problems. By seeing a doctor early in the process for an accurate diagnosis, you may be able to use conservative treatments to relieve the discomfort and avoid any lasting damage to the joint and surrounding muscles.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Hip Pain. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/hip-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050684
  2. Hip Pain Causes. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/hip-pain/causes/
  3. Hip Pain. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003179.htm
  4. Hip Bursitis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/hip-bursitis