Hip Pain from Running: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It

Hip Pain from Running: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It

From the endorphin rush to the stress relief of being outdoors, running has many perks. So it’s a bummer if you start to experience hip pain during or after a run.

Yet hip pain happens fairly often for anyone who regularly pounds the pavement or treadmill, whether you run for weight loss, heart health, or any other reason.

There’s a wide range of possible hip injuries that may lead to hip pain while running, says Daniel Fleck, PT, DPT, OCS, orthopedic clinical specialist and owner of High Performance Physical Therapy in New York City.

You don’t want to risk a minor problem growing into something bigger and chronic, so Fleck recommends talking to a physical therapist or doctor if:

  • Your hip pain becomes more frequent or intense.
  • You have pain at rest.
  • You feel any grinding, clicking, popping, or sharp, radiating pain.

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What Causes Hip Pain When Running?

Man running up stairs outside | hip pain running

A physical therapist or doctor can run clinical tests and watch you move to determine what’s causing your hip pain. But there are a few possible culprits that may be to blame for your hip pain after running or during running.

1. Bursitis

Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs found near joints such as the shoulders, elbows, and — you guessed it — hips. These sacs secrete synovial fluid, the natural lubricant of the body that provides a buffer between bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments, Fleck says.

But excessive force or repetitive motions like running may cause the bursae to become inflamed — kind of like an internal blister, Fleck adds. This painful condition, known as bursitis, can cause stiff, achy, or swollen joints.

2. Tendinitis

Increasing running mileage or intensity too quickly may lead to tendinitis, Fleck says. In this case, a tendon — which attaches muscle to bone — becomes inflamed, painful, and tender.

Repetitive motions and improper technique may also increase the risk of tendinitis.

3. Muscle strain

Overuse can lead to a strain or pulled muscle, Fleck explains. A hip strain may be anything from an overstretched muscle to a muscle tear.

Tight hip muscles, previous injury, skipping warm-ups, and adding too many miles too quickly can increase the risk of strains.

4. Stress fracture

This tiny crack in the bone can happen if you do too much too quickly, and the risk is higher if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. For runners, hip pain due to a stress fracture most often occurs in the neck of the femur bone, Fleck says.

5. Labral tear

The labrum is cartilage that cushions the hip joint and helps hold the “ball” of the femoral head move smoothly within the “socket” of the acetabulum.

Tears in the labrum can occur due to repetitive movements or structural abnormalities, including instability of the hip joint and femoroacetabular impingement (FAI).

FAI occurs when bone spurs (extra bone growth) form on the femoral head or acetabulum, which prevents the joint from functioning properly. Left untreated, FAI may lead to osteoarthritis.

6. Osteoarthritis

This is the “wear and tear” type of arthritis: Cartilage in the joint breaks down, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. While this damage isn’t reversible, your doctor can recommend treatment options to manage pain and improve mobility.

How Do You Prevent Hip Pain From Running?

Man stretches against a park bench after going on a run | hip pain running

Whether you are just getting started with running or you’re a seasoned marathoner, you can take action to help prevent hip pain from running.

1. Cross train

Fleck recommends strength training twice a week to primarily target the core and hips, including the glutes, hip rotators, deep abdominals, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. (Check out these 11 exercises.)

Doing so will help improve hip stability, in turn helping your body better withstand the repetitive forces of running and reducing the risk of pain or injury.

Be sure not to cross train the day before or after your longest run of the week, Fleck adds. Also, help your muscles recover with some light active recovery such as stretching, foam rolling, or gentle yoga.

2. See a pro

Have a gait analysis or running assessment performed by a physical therapist or other trained professional, Fleck recommends. This will check your biomechanics and spot things like overstriding, muscle endurance imbalances, and excessive impact absorption.

With this information, the professional can create a plan to help you run with better form and reduce the risk of injury.

3. Wear the proper shoes

You want footwear that minimizes the forces that your joints have to absorb when your foot strikes the ground, Fleck says. His tips for finding the best running shoes for you:

  • Get each foot sized to ensure you’re buying the correct size. Buy the bigger size if your feet are different sizes, which isn’t uncommon.
  • Go for comfort over looks. The best shoe for you will always be the one that feels the best when you try it on.
  • If you’re deciding between two pairs, choose the lighter ones.

How to Relieve Hip Pain From Running

Athletic woman using a foam roller to stretch her hip | hip pain running

“If you catch [the underlying cause] early and intervene appropriately, that’s way better than running through the pain,” Fleck says. Otherwise a minor injury may become a more serious problem.

The best way to relieve hip pain from running is to foam roll and stretch post-run, Fleck says. Be sure to do both for your hip flexors, piriformis and other hip rotators, glutes, quads, calves, and adductors, he recommends. If you’re not sure what to do, ask a professional for post-run and recovery day mobility programs. And as mentioned previously, if the pain continues, or is acute and severe, contact your doctor.

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