Diagnosis and non-surgical options for Femoroacetabular Impingement

Ross Hauser, MD, Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, MMS, PA-C

Surgery and non-surgical options for Femoroacetabular Impingement

In this article, we will tackle the problems of getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options for Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI). We will also present discussions that a problem of pain and function of Femoroacetabular Impingement can be addressed with treatments that focus on the soft tissue of the hip and low back. We will also focus on treatments that would help prevent bone spurs from developing in the ball and socket hip joint.

Femoroacetabular Impingement or sometimes diagnosed simply as Hip Impingement is a condition where abnormal contact and rubbing of the ball and socket portion of the hip bones creates joint damaging friction. For some people, the rapid degeneration of the hip joint causes the formation of bone spurs. The bone spurs are there because the body is trying to create stability in a joint that has become unstable. The loss of stability can be traced to a weakening of the ligaments and tendons of the hip, low back, groin, and hamstring areas, and hip labrum degeneration.

In the minds of some athletes/runners, the bone spur formation at the ball and socket of the hip are the big problem. These runners think the best way to treat bone spur formation is with surgery to shave them off. But is that the best way? Or is it the best way for everyone?

Before we begin this article and research findings, if you would like to contact our medical team, please use our contact form page. We can help assess your candidacy for our treatments and answer your questions.

Femoroacetabular Impingement may only be one part of a bigger problem

As in the many conditions we see, Femoroacetabular Impingement is not a condition or diagnosis that sits in isolation. It is typically part of a bigger picture of hip instability. A December 2019 published case history (1) examined the role of microinstability of the hip and the many simultaneous conditions it can lead to. What is described herein in this Canadian medical journal is very similar to the problems we have seen in the past 28 plus years. The case surrounds a 25-year-old female athlete who was able to avoid surgery with an exercise program. Here is the case:

“This case is designed to aid practitioners in understanding the potential role of hip microinstability as a possible underlying source of hip pain and dysfunction. A 25-year-old female collegiate cross-country athlete presented with a 2-year history of progressive left hip and groin pain. Extensive clinical examination and imaging confirmed the presence of cam-type femoroacetabular impingement, a labral tear, and gluteal tendinopathy. Despite multiple intra and extra-articular (conditions), understanding the role of hip instability and implementing a rehabilitation exercise program focused on hip joint centration (exercises that hold the hip joint in its proper alignment and position) alleviated the patient’s symptoms at rest and during activity.

A robust history and physical exam of the hip is essential with the addition of imaging when testing criteria is positive. Clinicians should be aware of the role hip microinstability plays and its clinical implications when in the presence of other contributing factors such as generalized joint laxity, and/or intra-articular pathology.”

For some people, exercise programs that get the hip back into its natural and optimal position will work very well. For those it does not, we will present the information below on regenerative medicine injections that can accelerate the healing process.

These are options to the traditional treatments of prolonged anti-inflammatory use and possibly the eventual need for surgical repair.

Surgery or anti-inflammatories? Some patients will manage themselves along as best they can, for as long as they can with the help of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Probably like you.

For many athletes/runners, surgery is a concern. Rather than have the surgery, some patients will manage themselves along as best they can, for as long as they can with the help of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Most of these people will continue to exercise or run through dull constant pain. For some patients we see, running has now become difficult at best for them. Even as they admit to using over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. These patients tell us that nowadays their run will usually end when the pain becomes too much to handle and running turned into limping.

These patients are reaching the end of their ability to self-manage. These people see surgery as the only way. They are in our clinic as possibly the last stop in an attempt to find non-surgical relief.

I can’t sleep because of my hip, stress, worry, thinking about surgery, no surgery, and I have a lot of pain.

Very common in patients with any type of pain is the problem of getting good sleep. You probably did not need to be told this. Sleep problems, fatigue, and always being tired may be a deciding factor in waiting for a surgical date. Of course, you may have to increase medications to get you to your future surgery. In this article, we hope to present options and research that will help you today. The quicker you can successfully treat Femoroacetabular Impingement, even if the initial improvement is small, the benefit is great. In February 2020, researchers writing in the journal  BioMed Central Musculoskeletal Disorders,(2) offered these guidelines:

“patients with Symptomatic Femoroacetabular Impingement syndrome and acetabular dysplasia (shallow hip socket) have poor sleep quality. Worsening pain from a patient’s hip pathology is associated with poor sleep, even prior to the onset of osteoarthritis of the hip. . . We also found that sleep quality was better with higher scores indicating lower pain, fewer role limitations due to emotional problems, and improved mental health. Patients presenting with hip pain from Femoroacetabular Impingement syndrome and acetabular dysplasia should be screened for sleep disturbance and may benefit from a multidisciplinary treatment approach.”

Stopping the progress of Femoroacetabular Impingement – non-surgically
Femoroacetabular Impingement and Hip Instability

There are times when femoroacetabular impingement surgery may be needed. There are other times when femoroacetabular impingement surgery may be THOUGHT to be needed. But can probably be avoided. There are times when non-surgical consideration should be given top consideration.

Here are the traditional Femoroacetabular Impingement problems that may be addressed surgically:

Pincer femoroacetabular impingement

Cam femoroacetabular impingement

What are we seeing in this image?

In this illustration, hip instability caused by injury to the hip labrum or any of the hip ligaments typically causes the two main types of femoracetabular impingement – the pincer type and the CAM type. Prolotherapy addresses the hip and ligaments injuries or damage and can help resolve the hip pain issue.

In this illustration, hip instability caused by injury to the hip labrum or any of the hip ligaments typically causes the two main types of femoracetabular impingement - the pincer type and the CAM type. Prolotherapy addresses the hip and ligaments injuries or damage and can help resolve the hip pain issue.

“The optimal therapy for femoroacetabular impingement is unclear.” Is surgery the answer? That is UNCLEAR

Often we will hear a story from a patient where they were told that surgery is the only option. But they themselves were not convinced and started researching alternatives. For some people, surgery may be the only option. Who are those people, we are going to let the research from surgeons discussed below help answer that question?

Here is something typically that a new patient will say:

I have to have the surgery, my orthopedist is strongly recommending it. I need some bone shaved down. But to get to the surgery I have to go through a course of physical therapy. I am anxious to do the physical therapy but I am not sure how much it will help at this time. I have been doing stretching and yoga and exercises I found online. I am here and seeing a surgeon because these exercises have not really helped. (See below for our discussion on physical therapy).

This next section of our article will deal with the surgical challenges of femoroacetabular impingement. As we do in all our articles, when surgery is discussed, we bring in the opinions of some of the world’s leading surgical researchers.

In the medical journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage (3) doctors found: “The optimal therapy for femoroacetabular impingement is unclear,” in trying to prove the surgical options available to patients. The doctors noted in their research of 18 studies comparing management strategies – none of these studies compared surgical and non-surgical treatment.

“Although evidence supports improvement in symptoms after surgery in FAI, no studies have compared surgical and non-surgical treatment. Therefore no conclusion regarding the relative efficacy of one approach over the other can be made. Surgery improves alpha angle (improper position of the ball in the socket)  but whether this alters the risk of development or progression of hip osteoarthritis is unknown. This review highlights the lack of evidence for use of surgery in FAI. Given that hip geometry may be modified by non-surgical factors, clarifying the role of non-surgical approaches vs surgery for the management of FAI is warranted.”

Researchers call for FAI surgery assessment study

In the April 2018 edition of The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, (4) researchers announced a study to assess the effectiveness of FAI surgery. Here are the highlights of what the research surgeons hope to accomplish and preliminary observations:

Rapid onset of hip osteoarthritis after femoroacetabular impingement surgery

In June 2019, the US Army Office of the Surgeon General out of Baylor University published these findings in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. (5)

CONCLUSION: A clinical diagnosis of hip osteoarthritis was found in approximately 22% of young patients undergoing hip arthroscopy in as little as 2 years. . .Females were at lower risk, while increasing age and multiple surgeries increased the risk for an osteoarthritis diagnosis. Osteoarthritis onset still occurs after “hip preservation” surgery in a substantial number of individuals within 2 years.

Physical therapy or surgery – some interesting studies

In the December 2018 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (6) research lead by Creighton University Medical Center, suggested that a well-designed and customized physical therapy program showed benefit and surgical avoidance in six patients scheduled for femoroacetabular impingement surgery. The highlights of this research are

A brief note: We work with physical therapists, especially in patients that do not respond to physical therapy to help them respond to the treatment. Please see our article Why physical therapy and exercise did not restore muscle strength in hip osteoarthritis patients, this will show how strengthening tendons and ligaments provide the resistance necessary in some patients to maximize the benefits of the PT.

To take this line of thinking one step further, that strengthened connective tissue in the hip could provide a counterbalance in asymptomatic FAI patients, let’s look at a study (July 2018) in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (7) Here researchers looked at patients with femoroacetabular deformity (FAD) who do not experience pain.

Conclusion: Improving hip extensor strength and pelvic mobility may positively affect symptoms for patients with FAI.

The third study could not make a recommendation as to which treatment the patient should peruse, surgery or physical therapy. Appearing in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (8) in April 2020, researchers at Washington University suggest “superior outcomes of surgery compared to PT. However, PT can result in improvements in some patients and does not appear to compromise surgical outcomes.”

In other words, try the physical therapy first and if it does not work, then consider surgery. Which is pretty much the standard protocol.

This too was suggested by a more recent December 2020 study in The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, (9) here the surgeons reported:

“Controversy exists as to the management of femoroacetabular impingement. When nonsurgical management of symptomatic FAI fails, surgical management is generally indicated. However, many groups with a stake in patient care (particularly payors) have insisted on higher levels of evidence.

Recently, there have been several Level I studies (higher quality research) published, comparing physical therapy with hip arthroscopy in the management of symptomatic FAI. All of these studies have used outcomes tools developed and validated for patients with non-arthritic hip pain. Highest level evidence confirms that although patients with FAI do benefit from physical therapy, patients who undergo surgical management for FAI with hip arthroscopy benefit more than those who undergo physical therapy.”

A young female athlete helped demonstrate successful management of symptomatic bilateral femoroacetabular impingement syndrome

In September 2018, an interesting case history was presented in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. (10) In this study, a young female athlete helped demonstrate successful management of symptomatic bilateral femoroacetabular impingement syndrome. She had surgery on one side and non-surgical treatment on the other side. What did the researchers find? They could not really tell.

The bottom line factor here is that it was, in fact, difficult to compare surgery to physical therapy even in the same person for numerous reasons. One is, the similar lack of success of the treatments was influenced by the fact the female athlete reduced her activity level. Lastly, the patient was a 31-year-old physiotherapist.

Is it Femoroacetabular impingement causing your issues or is it something else?

In the research above we noted:

So what could be the underlying cause of your hip pain?

Is your MRI showing you what is causing your problems?


If you have a scan or MRI of your hip showing femoroacetabular impingement, doctors are saying it may as well be worthless. That is a powerful statement, here is some powerful research

Having an MRI that shows femoroacetabular impingement does not mean that is the cause of your hip problems

Is it Femoroacetabular impingement causing your issues or do you have hip tendinopathy and Greater trochanteric pain syndrome?

As we have mentioned many times in our hip pain-related articles, the hip is a big joint, we believe to help patients achieve their treatment goals, the entire hip needs to be examined with recommendations for treating the whole hip joint. We discuss this further in our article: The evidence for Prolotherapy as a hip-preserving alternative to arthroscopy and hip replacement.

The example we cited is a new paper from doctors in Italy who looked to see what caused greater trochanter pain syndrome in patients with suspected femoroacetabular impingement syndrome.


Is it Femoroacetabular impingement causing your issues or is it pelvic or lower back issues?

Doctors from Cambridge University Hospitals wrote in the journal International Orthopaedics (14)  that extra-articular hip impingement syndromes encompass a group of conditions that have previously been an unrecognized source of pain. Extra-articular hip impingement syndromes mean problems caused from outside of the hip joint itself as opposed to intra-articular hip impingement syndromes which come from within the hip itself. Where it was once thought that hip impingement was caused by bone abnormalities limited to the ball and socket portion of the hip joint, doctors, including the Cambridge report cited below are finding that hip impingement can be caused by the pelvic bones as well.

The Cambridge doctors categorized these syndromes as:

  1. Ischiofemoral impingement: quadratus femoris muscle becomes compressed between the lesser trochanter portion of the thigh bone and the ischial tuberosity (the sit bones of the lower pelvis). We cover this problem in our article: Ischial tuberosity pain and ischiofemoral impingement: Here we describe Ischial tuberosity pain and ischiofemoral impingement. The focus will be on two types of problems. Impingement caused by instability and non or malunion of the fragment of the Ischial tuberosity caused by apophyseal (growth plate) avulsion fractures in young athletes.
  2. Subspine impingement: anatomical problems of the anterior inferior iliac spine (the wing of the upper iliac/pelvic bones) and the distal anterior femoral neck (the neck of the thigh bone) causing soft tissue entrapment of muscle and tendon.
  3. Iliopsoas impingement: friction between the iliopsoas muscle and the hip labrum, resulting in hip labrum breakdown. We cover issues in this article of the iliopsoas or psoas muscle as a cause of difficult-to-treat groin pain. Also, see our article on surgery for hip labral tear.
  4. Deep gluteal syndrome: pain occurs in the buttock due to the entrapment of the sciatic nerve in the deep gluteal space. In our articles, we cover a lot of information on the buttock pain and the pelvis, lower spine connection. See also the connection with hamstring injuries
  5. Pectineofoveal impingement: pain occurs when the medial synovial fold impinges against overlying soft tissue, primarily the zona orbicularis (the hip annular ligament).

The researchers concluded with a message to doctors that extra-articular hip impingement syndromes should be taken into consideration and should form a part of the differential diagnoses alongside intra-articular pathology including femoro-acetabular impingement particularly in the younger patient with a non-arthritic hip.

Questioning the MRI AGAIN

As described above, Subspine impingement involves problems of the anterior inferior iliac spine and the neck of the thigh bone. In looking at patients with Anterior Inferior Iliac Spine problems, doctors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center suggest that a high percentage of patients with Anterior Inferior Iliac Spine problems associated with subspinous impingement are, in fact, asymptomatic. That the current radiographic classification system should not be used exclusively for clinical decision-making. (15)

The problem of pelvic tilt in Femoroacetabular impingement

A February 2021 study in the European Spine Journal (16) looked at adult spinal deformity patient’s hip orientation in a standing position and how they anatomically compensated for problems of pelvic tilt, abnormal spine curvature, and leg-length discrepancies. What they were keying in on was how much a patient bent their knees to try to “level” out.

The patients were divided into two groups:

The patients with Adult spinal deformity who used a bent knee approach to trying to level out had:

Conclusions: Adult spinal deformity patients compensating with knee flexion have altered hip orientation which can lead to posterior femoroacetabular impingement, thus limiting pelvic retroversion (the natural movement of the pelvis behind the spine in part due to loss of the natural curve or lordosis of the lumbar region). This underlying mechanism could be potentially involved in the hip-spine syndrome.

Please see our article: Treatments for leg length discrepancy, pelvic tilt, pelvic incidence-lumbar lordosis mismatch, and walking difficulties for a more detailed discussion.

Doctors are noting that one of the main causes of Femoroacetabular impingement is hip arthroscopic surgery.

New research on Femoroacetabular impingement surgery is concerning. Doctors are noting that one of the main causes of Femoroacetabular impingement is hip arthroscopic surgery.

In an editorial, James H. Lubowitz, M.D. (Editor-in-Chief) wrote in the medical journal Arthroscopy:

Hip femoroacetabular impingement is overwhelmingly the primary cause of revision surgery after hip arthroscopy. FAI imaging is confusing and requires additional research. Therefore, hip arthroscopic surgeons must become experts at clinical evaluation and examination. (17)

Clearly, a connection to the MRI research mentioned earlier.

In an editorial, Dr. JW Thomas Byrd writing in Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, suggests:

When performing arthroscopic surgical management of symptomatic cases of hip femoroacetabular impingement, it is important to consider how much cam lesion resection (removal of labral, cartilage, and/or bone) is required, if any. Generally, failure to adequately address a cam lesion could result in progressive damage to the articular cartilage. Thus, while it is important to consider exactly how much arthroscopic intervention is necessary to achieve successful results, the potential consequences of neglecting a cam lesion are at least as worrisome as the risks of indicated cam lesion treatment. (19)

Capsular plication – persistent hip pain after hip arthroscopy – the need for another arthroscopic surgery

Briefly, capsular plication is when loose tissue is folded up in the hip capsule to try to alleviate the problems of that loose tissue getting caught and impinged again. We are going to bring in the surgeons to explain this:

In the journal Arthroscopy Techniques, surgeons wrote:(20)

“The most commonly reported reasons for persistent hip pain after hip arthroscopy are residual femoroacetabular impingement, dysplasia, and dysplasia variants, or extra-articular impingement. (The outside of the hip joint such as Ischial tuberosity pain syndrome or Greater trochanteric pain syndrome.)

Capsular defects after hip arthroscopy may suggest an alteration of the biomechanical properties of the iliofemoral ligament and lead to iatrogenically (the surgery caused) induced hip instability. There are a growing number of biomechanical and clinical studies showing the importance of capsular management during hip arthroscopy.”

Compromised hip cartilage after surgery

In June 2017, researchers in Denmark, as part of the Danish Hip Arthroscopy Registry study and publishing in the medical journal of the International Society of Orthopaedic Surgery and Traumatology (21questioned how cartilage degeneration is treated in patients undergoing Femoroacetabular Impingement surgery.

Listen to these results:

In March of 2018, New York University’s Bulletin of the Hospital for Joint Diseases published Beyond the Scope Open Treatment of Femoroacetabular Impingement(22)

In this paper, researchers suggested:

Kinesiophobia and Pain Catastrophizing in Outcomes After Hip Arthroscopy for Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome

Kinesiophobia is fear of movement, pain catastrophizing is fear of pain. You may think that these fears would be characteristic of people before surgery. Indeed they are. But they are also characteristic of people after surgery. An April 2020 study (23) from researchers at the Departments of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, and Wake Forest Baptist Health, found:

“Patient kinesiophobia and pain catastrophizing both shows significant improvements 1 year after undergoing hip arthroscopy for Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome. However, pain catastrophizing scores at 1 year are significantly greater in patients not achieving a minimal clinically important difference (outcome after surgery to before surgery. The surgery was not successful in the minds of the patient). The minimal clinically important difference, whereas no association, was identified between kinesiophobia and likelihood for Minimal clinically important difference achievement (successful surgery).”

Sports hernia and femoroacetabular impingement in athletes

The idea that sports-related chronic groin pain represents a major diagnostic and therapeutic challenge in sports medicine has been discussed at length in medical research. Ohio State University researchers writing in the medical journal Frontiers in Surgery. write the “complexity of the anatomy and biomechanics of the groin makes these injuries more difficult to identify and manage. Patients may find themselves evaluated by multiple physicians and receive numerous diagnostic studies over a period of months. (24)

Italian researchers reporting in the World Journal of Clinical Cases say Femoroacetabular impingement has been reported in as few as 12% to as high as 94% of patients with sports hernias, athletic pubalgia, or adductor-related groin pain.

Cam-type impingement is proposed to lead to increased symphyseal motion (resulting in cartilage deterioration)  with overload on the surrounding extra-articular structures and muscle, which can result in the development of sports hernia and athletic pubalgia. In simpler terms, hip/pelvic instability.

In this paper, the researchers are suggesting that for patients with FAI and sports hernia, the surgical management of both problems is more effective than sports pubalgia surgery or hip arthroscopy alone (89% vs 33% of cases).

As sports hernias and FAI are typically treated by general and orthopedic surgeons, respectively, a multidisciplinary approach for diagnosis and treatment is recommended for optimal treatment of patients with these injuries. (25)

This idea that to successfully treat a sports hernia you would need to surgically repair numerous areas is not new. In 2011 doctors at the Minnesota Orthopedic Sports Medicine Institute wrote: When surgery only addressed either the athletic pubalgia or intra-articular hip pathology in this patient population, outcomes were suboptimal. Surgical management of both disorders concurrently or in a staged manner led to improved postoperative outcomes scoring and an unrestricted return to sporting activity in 89% of hips. (26)

For some athletes, this is good news, for others multi-stage surgeries present time off challenges. Here are the results of that study:

Ligaments, tendons, hip instability, and microinstability
Femoroacetabular impingement is more than treating part of the hip

In the medical journal Arthroscopy (27), doctors at the University of Rochester looked to see if femoroacetabular impingement is associated with hip instability and in what way. One thing they found was that patients suffered from frank dislocations and posterior subluxation events, the patients’ hips were frequently popping out of place.

What does this mean? It means that hip instability proceeded the need for the bone spurs. The hip was unstable. 

In the above research, we discussed a tightening or strengthening of the hips and tendons of the hip to make physical therapy more effective in femoroacetabular impingement treatments. Ligaments and tendons are among the soft connective tissue that holds joints in their anatomically correct shape and help the muscles and bones provide locomotion and range of motion. Ligaments hold bones to bones and tendons hold muscle to the bones.

For physical therapy to work, you need as much resistance as can be generated. Strength training is resistance training. Now, what if you do not have good resistance? For one thing, physical therapy will be less rewarding. For another, you will also have hip hypermobility, or more commonly called “instability of the hip.”

What we have documented through this research is that to treat femoroacetabular impingement you need to treat the whole hip with the goal of regenerating soft tissue to add strength and stability to the joint. Enter Prolotherapy.


PRP Prolotherapy for Femoroacetabular Impingement

Prolotherapy is the injection of simple sugar, dextrose. The idea is that dextrose injections will cause a controlled inflammatory response that will focus on strengthening and rebuilding the damaged soft tissue holding the hip in place. Strengthened soft tissue, i.e, ligaments, will stabilize the hip joint and help pull things back into place and reduce destructive joint forces in the hip.

PRP is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy. PRP treatment re-introduces your own concentrated blood platelets into the hip area. Your blood platelets contain growth and healing factors. When concentrated through simple centrifuging, your blood plasma becomes “rich” in healing factors, thus the name Platelet RICH plasma.


This is a hip procedure on a runner who has hip instability and a lot of clicking and popping in the front of the hip.

In this video Prolotherapy treatments are demonstrated by Ross Hauser, MD:

When Prolotherapy is considered

In the video above you will see a comprehensive Prolotherapy injection treatment for a runner with hip issues. Simply Prolotherapy is the injection of simple dextrose (sugar) into the joint to create a positive inflammatory healing response which will bring the body’s natural growth factors to the area. The simple goal of this simple treatment is to regenerate ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.

In our numerous research papers on the problems of the hip and treatment with Prolotherapy, we suggested better results in patients with some reasonable range of motion remaining, ie 50% or greater normal range of motion, then Prolotherapy works at helping with the pain and exercises like cycling and swimming will slowly allow the patient to regain some of the lost range of motion.

Questions about our treatments?

If you have questions about Femoroacetabular Impingement and how we may be able to help you, please contact us and get help and information from our Caring Medical staff.

This is a picture of Ross Hauser, MD, Danielle Steilen-Matias, PA-C, Brian Hutcheson, DC. They treat people with non-surgical regenerative medicine injections. Offices are located in Oak Park, Illinois and Fort Myers, Florida.

Brian Hutcheson, DC | Ross Hauser, MD | Danielle Steilen-Matias, PA-C

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References
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