As any athlete knows, when your ability to walk becomes compromised in any way, your ability to compete is compromised too. And hip bursitis can compromise your ability to walk.

Hip bursitis hurts. When left untreated, the pain grows worse. It can spread to the whole area around your hip. After that, the pain can start radiating down your thigh. It’s not long before your confident walk has changed into an agonizing hobble.

But there is good news. Hip bursitis is not permanent. It is treatable. Understanding what it is and what caused it can go a long way in understanding how to treat it and keep it from coming back.

What Is Hip Bursitis?

Let’s break it down. Your hip, of course, is the ball-and-socket joint that connects your leg to your pelvis. It’s the largest joint of that type in your body. Bursae are little fluid-filled sacs found in your joints. They serve to cushion all of the bones, tendons, and muscles found near your joints. So, bursitis is the condition caused by the fluid-filled sacs becoming irritated or inflamed.  

Bursitis is a painful condition that occurs most frequently in the joints that have the most motion, like your hips, elbows, or shoulders. However, bursitis can technically happen in any bursae in your body.

There are two major bursae in the hip that are particularly prone to developing bursitis.

  1. Trochanter bursa – Located on the outside of the hip and covering the boney part of your hip. If you experience outside hip pain, you might have bursitis in this bursa.
  2. Iliopsoas bursa – Located on the inside of the hip towards the groin area. This pain is more challenging to diagnosis as hip bursitis because pain seems to come more from the groin area than the hip.

The more common of these two to develop bursitis is the trochanter bursa, which leads us to what exactly causes bursitis of the hip.

Causes of Hip Bursitis

Any person can develop hip bursitis. Some people are more susceptible to develop it because of certain risk factors. Athletes fall into that category because they tend to expect and demand a lot of their bodies and push themselves constantly to be faster, stronger, and do more than they have ever done. In other people, the causes of hip bursitis are more genetic. Here are the common reasons people develop hip bursitis.  

Risk Factors

  1. Repeated Pressure on the Hip – When you overuse a joint, you can cause injury to that joint. In this case, people who bike, climb a lot of stairs, run, or even stand for long periods of time risk developing bursitis. Athletes are particularly prone to this type of bursitis.
  2. Hip Injury – A fall onto the outside of the hip or repeated blows to the same place can ultimately cause a condition called “traumatic bursitis.” When trauma to the hip occurs, the bursae can become inflamed and fill with blood. When the inflammation does not dissipate, traumatic bursitis has developed.
  3. Previous Hip Surgery – Any previous surgeries can cause irritation to the bursae and increase the odds of developing bursitis.
  4. Other Physical Problems – Any physical condition, like scoliosis or discrepancy in leg length, that causes a person to walk abnormally, is a risk for hip bursitis as these conditions can irritate the bursae over time.
  5. Bacterial Infection in the Bursae – This is a particular risk factor for people with compromised immune systems, like those who have HIV/AIDS, lupus, or diabetes. A suppressed immune system may leave you more likely to develop septic bursitis, which is an infection in your trochanteric bursae.

Genetic Causes

  1. Age and GenderStatistics show that the older you are, the more likely you are to develop bursitis in your hip. Men are less likely to develop the condition than women.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis – This condition affects the membranes that surround your joints. Compromises to those membranes can lead to bursitis.
  3. Bone Spurs or Calcium DepositsBone spurs are bony protrusions that grow on the edges of bones. Calcium deposits also occur on bones. They can start soft but usually harden over time. Both of these conditions can irritate the bursae in the hip when they happen in that area of the body.

Prevention of Hip Bursitis

Maybe the best news about hip bursitis is that it fits the adage – an ounce of prevention might actually give you a pound of cure. Now that you know the risk factors and causes, here are some ways you can help to prevent hip bursitis from happening to you.

  • Lift Heavy Items Properly – Make sure that you bend from your knees and lift heavy items with your whole body. Lifting by bending over at the waist can put extra stress on your hip bursae.
  • Take Breaks from Your Work – If you perform repetitive tasks that put a strain on your hips, make sure that you take frequent breaks that give your body time to rest and recover.
  • Keep a Healthy Weight – Too much extra weight puts pressure on your joints, including your hips, and can lead to bursae inflammation.
  • Exercise – Not only will it help to keep your weight down, but exercising will also keep your muscles strong, which can help protect your hip joints.
  • Stretch – Before you exercise, make sure you stretch the muscles around your hips. Warming up your joints can protect against irritation.

All five of these methods of prevention are useful tips for athletes to consider as they train to compete.

Symptoms of Hip Bursitis

If you experience any of these symptoms, you might have hip bursitis.

  1. Hip ache or pain
  2. Sudden inability to move your hip
  3. Swelling or redness around your hip
  4. Bruising or a rash that develops in your hip area
  5. Hip hurts when you press on it
  6. Sudden sharp, shooting pain in your hip
  7. Unexplained fever

You can also use our Symptoms Checker to see what the symptoms you’re having might mean.

Diagnosis of Hip Bursitis

If you have any of the listed symptoms, you’ll want to get checked out by a doctor. When you go, your physician will examine your hip and may order X-rays or an MRI to get a better look at the inside of your hip to see what’s happening. If a doctor suspects septic bursitis, he or she will likely order lab tests to determine if the bacteria that causes it is present.

Treatments for Hip Bursitis

For the vast majority of people, hip bursitis treatment does not involve surgery. Here are the non-surgical treatment options available to you.

  • Modified Activity – If your hip bursitis is due to your risk factors, try to adjust your habits to relieve the stress you’re putting on your hip. (See the prevention tips listed above.)
  • Therapy – Whether you do it on your own or with a physical therapist, properly exercising and stretching the muscles around your hip can help strengthen and protect the joint.
  • Medication or Injections – Your doctor might prescribe some anti-inflammatories to keep the inflammation down in the bursae, or possibly recommend a steroid injection into the hip bursae. This often relieves pain for months and in some cases, gets rid of it permanently.
  • Assistive Walking Devices – Short-term use of a cane or a walker can help to relieve the stress and strain on the hip joint that leads to bursitis.
  • Rest – Staying off of your feet and allowing the joint to rest can help ease the symptoms of bursitis.
  • Ice – After any physical activity that puts stress on your hip joint, apply ice to the area to keep swelling down and help prevent the bursae from becoming inflamed
  • Draining the bursae – If the fluid sacs are full enough to be the cause of your pain, your doctor might recommend draining them to relieve the discomfort.

Treating hip bursitis with surgery is rare, but if you’ve tried all of the options listed above and none of them have worked, your doctor may recommend surgically removing your hip’s bursae. Taking out the bursae will not affect the mobility of your hip or your ability to use. Surgery is typically followed by physical therapy to increase strength in the muscles and help protect the hip.

Prognosis after a Hip Bursitis Diagnosis

Given time and proper treatment, hip bursitis is curable and you can go on to live free from pain and do your normal activities – even those athletes for whom “normal” is a whole other level from the general population. Make sure to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis of hip bursitis and establish a treatment plan that works best for you.

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