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Physical therapy for hip pain


Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to treat your hip pain. A physical therapist is trained to help improve your ability to do the activities you want.

This may mean returning to golf or tennis, being able to work again, continuing to garden, or simply taking care of yourself around your home.

Physical therapy can help treat:

  • Muscle strains
  • Ligament or tendon sprains
  • Tendinitis
  • Hip bursitis
  • Hip arthritis

It can also help you prepare for, or recover after, hip replacement surgery.

The goal is for you to function as well as possible with little or no pain. To do this, your physical therapist will:

  • Treat your hip pain
  • Help you strengthen and stretch the muscles around your hip
  • Teach you proper techniques to move your hip for everyday tasks or sports activities

Treatments and techniques

There are many exercises, stretches, and other methods to treat hip pain and arthritis. Each physical therapist or trainer may choose a different set of exercises or treatments to help you.

Your doctor or orthopedic surgeon should direct or prescribe these treatments.

There is no perfect exercise or technique. The treatment and coaching you receive can help you manage your pain and decrease your risk for further injuries to your hip.

Before treating you, a therapist will assess your body mechanics. The therapist will:

  • Watch how your hip moves as you walk or perform other activities
  • Observe your spine and posture as you stand or sit
  • Check the range of motion of your hip joint and spine
  • Test different muscles for weakness or stiffness
  • Check to see which movements seem to cause or worsen your pain

Muscle strengthening and stretching

Many muscles surround your hip and lower back. Some of them are among the strongest in your body.

When all of these muscles are working well together, they serve to stabilize your hip joint. When your hip is stabilized, less stress is placed on your hip joint and muscles when you are active. A lot of focus will also be on your core stability. Strong core support can have less stress on your hip and lower extremity joints.

After testing and examining you, your therapist will know which muscles are too weak or too tight. You will then start a program to stretch out your muscles and make them stronger. Most of the time you do not need to use heavy weights for these exercises.

Deep tissue work or massage

Deep tissue work or massage may be done by a massage therapist or a physical therapist. This technique is different from the type of massage that can help you relax.

The goal of this therapy is to break up micro-scars that can form in the muscles, tendons, and other tissues that have been sore or tight for a long time. These symptoms may be caused by hip arthritis or sprains and strains of the muscles and ligaments around your hip.

During the treatment:

  • The therapist will use thumbs, fingers, and even elbows to apply pressure on deeper muscles and tissues, using long, slow strokes.
  • The pressure is deep and focuses on the area of pain. The therapist will slowly increase the amount of pressure, so the treatment should not be very painful.

Right afterwards, you may feel pain or stiffness in the muscles that were worked on. Try placing ice on the area. The discomfort should go way in 1 or 2 days.

Ultrasound treatments

Ultrasound is most often used to treat bursitis, sprains, and strains around the hip.

The ultrasound machine creates high-frequency sound waves. A probe attached to the machine carries these waves to your body tissues.

  • The therapist will place a gel on your skin and move the probe in circles over the area experiencing pain.
  • You may feel a slight tingling sensation, but the treatment does not hurt.

Your therapist can also do other treatments with ultrasound. Most of the time, your therapist will use ultrasound before stretching a muscle, tendons, or ligament, or before you perform some exercises.

The treatments help draw blood into the area and can help with the healing process.

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Review Date: 12/31/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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