Finding an effective treatment for Snapping Hip Syndrome

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

Snapping hip syndrome is a frustrating problem for the people who have it. If you are reading this article you are most likely one of those people. It is also likely that you are a runner or a dancer.

If you are reading this article this problem has now gone on for months maybe a year or two. What was once a minor inconvenience, then an annoying problem has now become a big problem. You may have groin pain, low back pain, it hurts now when you walk.  Surgery is now being discussed. What are the options?

Your story may go something like this:

About two years ago my hip gave way. I am a long-distance runner, I run in competitions. One day during a run I heard a loud snap in my hip, it started to swell so I thought I tore something. I went straight off to an orthopedic surgeon and I was diagnosed with something I never heard of, snapping hip syndrome.


At the initial visit with the surgeon, I was given my treatment guidelines.

After a few weeks and no improvement, I was reassessed and given a cortisone injection. This did not help either. I was told that this may be a permanent problem and I need to give up the long-distance runs unless I wanted to consider surgery. This was unacceptable. Now I am looking for different treatment options because surgery is my last choice.

What do we do?

Below we will explain that we treat snapping hip syndrome by addressing ligament damage in the pelvic and hip area. Many people that reach out to us for treatment did not have this approach explained to them. We will document why that may have happened in the research below.

Article summary

Understanding Snapping Hip Syndrome

You finally went to the doctor because it was becoming too painful to run or dance or jump and nothing you were doing on a self-help basis were helping. An equally alarming concern was that you noticed that your hip had become “noisy.” It was making a “snapping,” popping,” noise. You may have heard this noise before on occasion, but now it is getting much louder and more frequent. You were probably told, “stay away from running for a couple of days,” and were given anti-inflammatory medication. Probably a prescription strength dosage far in excess of the over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications you were taking when you went to the doctor.

You were then told that if the pain does not go away after rest and medication, come back, and “we will get an MRI done.” Your pain did not go away, when you tried to resume running after a few days,  your hip “snapped,” “popped,” and remained painful. You went for an MRI, the result? “Negative.” How can that be? How can the MRI show nothing? Because in “Snapping Hip Syndrome,” the MRI may show “nothing.” That is in part the diagnosis criteria for Snapping Hip Syndrome – MRI shows nothing.

Snapping hip syndrome has three primary causes.

Snapping hip syndrome involving the iliotibial band, or IT band

Snapping hip syndrome involving the iliopsoas tendon

Tear in the hip cartilage or labral tear in the hip joint

Many snapping hip syndrome incidences are underreported or misdiagnosed

In December 2018, doctors at George Mason University reported in the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists (4) of the confusion surrounding hip pain in dancers.

They write that:

“Because snapping hip syndrome is poorly identified and can present similarly to other hip pathologies, many snapping hip syndrome incidences are underreported or misdiagnosed. Though snapping hip syndrome can begin as a harmless popping sensation, pain can become severe enough to limit dancers’ activities and potentially result in the development of concomitant issues.” Our note: concomitant issues are the degenerative hip problems related to hip instability.

Snapping Hip Syndrome is not a problem in isolation

While Snapping Hip Syndrome is often divided into external Snapping Hip Syndrome and internal Snapping Hip Syndrome, we like to divide the condition into four main categories:

In September 2005 doctors from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Yamanashi Faculty of Medicine in Japan suggested in the journal Arthroscopy (10) that Acetabular labral tears account for an estimated 80% of intra-articular snapping hip cases. There has been little in the literature to dispute that in the 17 years since. Traumatic injury to the articular cartilage, recurrent hip subluxation, and loose bodies of material in the hip that catch and interrupt normal mechanical functioning, such as a bone fragment, can also cause intra-articular snapping hip. Often, patients complain of a catching sensation within the hip joint in which the hip joint gets ‘stuck’ and they have to ‘jiggle’ the hip (often having to abduct the hip) to get the hip to move normally again. These are signs that the person has intra-articular pathology. Both internal and intra-articular snapping hip can be confirmed by dynamic ultrasonography. However, self-reported snapping hip can usually be considered diagnostically sound.

The remaining three categories are external to the joint and I call them the ‘external snapping hips’. (More on the external causes below). Each of these four causes has various potential causes and can be inter-related. How? They have a common etiology:

Overuse injuries and hip instability from repetitive hip extension and flexion often proceed snapping hip syndrome. The external snapping hips often have a gradual onset that worsens over time and with activity and are more common than intra-articular snapping hip, which often occurs suddenly due to trauma, like a fall. Most of the time, the articular snapping sounds come from bony contact laterally from the iliotibial band (tensor fascia lata), anteriorly from the iliopsoas muscle, and/or posteriorly from the biceps femoris muscle (hamstrings). Each of these types of SHS can contribute to popping/grinding sounds at the hip.

When people contact us with a diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome, many times it is a problem among many problems.

When people contact us with a diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome, many times it is a problem among many problems. In many cases, people will begin with a discussion of their hip labral tear, a paralabral cyst that may be causing sciatica-like symptoms, iliopsoas tendonitis, greater trochanteric pain syndrome, and snapping hip syndrome. The thinking many have, and they are mostly correct, is that the snapping is a symptom of many hip problems. Again, we will explain that we treat snapping hip syndrome by addressing ligament damage in the pelvic and hip area and restoring hip instability. In many cases restoring hip, instability will not only resolve the snapping but the concurrent conditions.

Snapping Hip Syndrome is a degenerative joint condition

Snapping is a form of crepitus, the medical term for any audible noise or internal sensation of popping, grinding, clicking, or “snapping” in a joint.

Crepitus is not a normal condition and signs of it point to an injury or degenerative joint condition.

In the 2018 publication, Stat Pearls(2) doctors describe Snapping Hip Syndrome in this way:

Diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome involves taking a careful patient history

Diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome involves taking a careful patient history that includes location and description of the snap, age and duration of onset, pain type and cause of onset, disability and impact on activities. Physical examination should include hip range of motion (including a comparison to the non-affected hip), palpation of the painful areas, and observation of gait. Generally, a clinician can have the patient in a lateral decubitus position (laying on one’s side) and palpate the greater trochanteric region as the hip moves through flexion and extension, followed by internal and external rotation. Similarly, to elicit the clicking, the patient can be placed on the unaffected side with pad under their buttock (so that the affected hip is held in adduction). With the knee kept in extension, the hip is then actively flexed and extended and the iliotibial band may be felt snapping over the greater trochanter.

A modified version of the FABER test can also be used to differentiate between internal (iliopsoas) or external (ITB) snapping hip. With the affected hip in the FABER position (flexion, abduction, external rotation), the hip is passively moved into an extended, adducted and internally rotated position. During this motion, a palpable or audible snap may be felt/heard. We typically perform a “Hauser Hip Maneuver” and palpate for clicking. Sometimes the posterior popping sensation the patient is concerned about is actually coming from the sacroiliac joint, not the hip.

Besides history and physical examination, dynamic ultrasound or traction fluoroscopy can be used to diagnose the snapping tendon and/or hip instability. MRI and radiographs are actually not good at viewing the snapping hip because they do not involve motion and the very diagnosis of snapping hip syndrome signifies a snapping sound with motion. Though, MRI can characterize the extent of joint or tendon damage from snapping hip syndrome. Dynamic ultrasound is performed bedside while the affected hip is actively or passively moved. This can detect the cause(s) of abnormal tendon friction during hip motion in a noninvasive way. (See figure ) At the sake of repetition, the best way to diagnose snapping hip syndrome is to actually move the hip and evaluate for snapping. The snapping sensation in the front or the outer side of the hip occurs from a tightness or tensing of the iliopsoas muscle or the tensor fascia latae muscle. The muscles are compensating for ligament weakness or labral tear causing hip instability.

The snapping sensation in the front or the outer side of the hip occurs from a tightness or tensing of the iliopsoas muscle or the tensor fascia latae muscle. The muscles are compensating for ligament weakness or labral tear causing hip instability.

Initial treatments for Snapping Hip Syndrome

Since snapping hip syndrome is commonly seen among athletes, the typical approach is to blame it on overtraining and tight muscles and tendons. As such, it involves at least part of the RICE protocol, which includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Although some of these treatment components do indeed help with muscle injuries, they do not heal the soft tissue involved such as the ligaments, tendons, and hip labrum. In addition, athletes must also stop training immediately, advice that is rarely popular, and when ligament injury is involved, not even necessary for very long.

Another standard practice involves the use of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications. However, in the long run, these treatments do more damage than good. Although cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to produce short-term pain benefit, both result in long-term loss of function and even more chronic pain by actually inhibiting the healing process of soft tissues and accelerating cartilage degeneration. Long-term side effects of these drugs can lead to other systemic health concerns.

When all else fails, patients who experience chronic snapping hip syndrome may be referred to a surgeon in order to lengthen the “tight” tendons thought to be involved. While many people have very successful surgeries, unfortunately, surgery often makes the problem worse. Surgeons will use x-ray technology as a diagnostic tool, which does not always properly diagnose the pain source.

So now what? Physical Therapy, massage, stretching, more medications, more rest, stop running? Get on an exercise bike? Ice, Ice, and more ice?

Guidelines for doctors treating snapping hip syndrome were offered in a paper published in the Sports medicine and arthroscopy review.(1) Here are the summary learning points:

Conservative care treatment guidelines

When your muscles are rolled up into a ball or they have become “short”

Recommending chronic stretching and massaging of the tight iliopsoas or tight IT band or surgically elongating either is not going to cure the problem

In these cases, evaluations often result in the following diagnoses: tight iliopsoas, tight IT band, etc. While I agree that these conditions are present, I disagree with them as sole diagnoses and the recommendations often given to treat them. In cases like this young athlete, when the iliopsoas tendon or iliotibial band is connecting with the hip bone and making a grinding sound, I agree that that is part of the problem. But, recommending chronic stretching/massaging the tendon or surgically elongating it is not going to cure the problem. Why? Because it isn’t the central problem, it is only secondary to the underlying condition. The underlying, central problem is joint instability due to ligament laxity. As the person travels from doctor to doctor, massage therapist to physical therapist to neurologist to kinesiotherapist to orthopedic surgeon, etc., what is happening to the joint instability? It is worsening. After potentially undergoing multiple cortisone injections, which further damage the soft tissues, often tendon tears and tendinopathy are eventually found on MRI that may convince the patient and the orthopedic surgeon that surgery is necessary. But, is doing surgery on gluteus medius tendon tear (for example) going to have long-term success at getting the patient back to full exercise if the underlying problem is joint instability? No it won’t.

A 17 year-old is playing soccer and gets hit in the left hip and leaves the game limping.

Here is an example of a young athlete turned adult and the problems of chronic hip pain:

A 17 year-old is playing soccer and gets hit in the left hip and leaves the game limping.  Because he in the growing phase of life and in good shape, he ‘recovers’ after a few weeks and returns to sports. A few years later, he notices a non-painful clicking in his hip, but doesn’t think much about it. He is in college now and does some athletics, but can’t put that much time into it because of school. The hip continues to click.

In his mid 20s, he gets a job and with the encouragement of friends, decides to start going to the gym and try various exercises, classes, some jogging, and more ‘normal’ stuff. After doing this for a few years, he realizes his hip problem is getting more diffuse and prominent and it has begun to click more.

It is here when he likely starts seeking opinions of various doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, neurologist and finally orthopedic surgeons. Each tells him what is wrong, but the treatments they recommend do not resolve the problem.

Eventually, the orthopedic surgeon convinces the patient to do arthroscopic surgery where he/she will look at the joint with an arthroscope and evaluate for various pathologies and treat surgically. The patient may be told that this needs to be done because often MRIs miss certain lesions. (MRIs take image slices through the body, with several millimeters between each slice, and it is here that certain tears and lesions can be missed.) While arthroscopy seems benign, it is far from that.

So what happened to this person?

Why did the pain start again after a few years? In this case, he suffered an initial ligament injury when playing soccer. Due to their innate poor blood supply, the injured ligaments were not able to fully heal on their own and thus caused joint instability and subsequent pain when he tried to exercise again years later. The initial inflammation resolved shortly after injury and because the young athlete had sprains of the ligaments and not tears, along with good musculature, the hip joint had enough stability to be pain free.

So, as this young man walked about and moved his hip up to millions of times per year, the ligament laxity was progressing. When he started exercising a few years later, the combination of increased ligament laxity and more force on the hip from exercise caused a ‘muscular type’ pain to set it. At some point, when the pain with exercise became increasing worse and/or started to occur simply with sitting and doing normal activities, he began getting evaluations by medical professionals, who were likely to all have different opinions on what was going on.

Diagnosing snapping hip syndrome


Soccer players, weight lifters, runners, ballet dancers

In research from doctors in Poland, a detailed analysis of the diagnosis and determination of Snapping Hip Syndrome is given in the Journal of Ultrasound (3). Here is the summary of that research:

There are two main forms of snapping hip: extra or intraarticular.

In this video Ross Hauser, MD covers some of the problems we see in our clinic surrounding Snapping Hip Syndrome, and, our treatment options.

 Surgery for snapping hip syndrome

At the beginning of this article, we suggested that snapping hip syndrome is not a problem that sits in isolation. There are many problems happening in the hip, snapping hip syndrome may only be one of many. From a traditional orthopedic surgeon’s point of view, intra-articular snapping hip is the least common condition of snapping hip syndrome, but often the most painful and most debilitating.

An October 2020 study published in the journal Arthroscopy Techniques (5), offers this same assessment. In this paper, surgeons offer a technique that allows them to see and repair the various problems that may be discovered in the hip while treating the snapping hip problem. Here are the summary points:

Psoas Tendon Snapping

Similarly, a group of orthopedic surgeons combined their results in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (6) and found that psoas snapping and ischiofemoral impingement are possibly two presentations of a similar underlying rotational dysplasia of the femur.

More pain after surgery

I wanted to run. Now I have more pain after the surgery. My pre-surgery pain centered on my hip, groin, and pelvis. I had limited rotation and my hip made a snapping sound. When it happened it felt like a “snapping my fingers” sensation. I was diagnosed with enthesopathy at various points in my hip. I had a small hip labrum tear and my orthopedist thought that if we fixed that up I could run again. It got worse after the surgery. Pain is severe. I am now on painkillers and “heavy-duty,” anti-inflammatories. My doctors do not know how to help me at this point because I no longer have any inflammation.

First, many people have very successful surgeries for problems related to snapping hip and/or hip labral tears. This person’s story is just one story where the surgery did not work. It is more typical of the patients we see as we usually do not see successful surgery people, we see the not so successful surgery people at our center.

Successful surgical reports

In November 2021, research led by doctors at the University of Milan investigated the clinical follow-up of patients with external snapping hip syndrome  treated with endoscopic gluteus maximus tendon release. Publishing their results in the Journal of orthopaedics and traumatology (8), the study included 22 patients, 6 males and 16 females with an average age of 28 (the youngest patient was 16 the oldest was 76 years). All patients had resolution of the snapping symptoms after the procedure at an average follow up of 18 months. The team concluded: “Endoscopic gluteus maximus tendon release is an excellent surgical option to treat snapping hip syndrome.”

Ross Hauser, MD and Danielle Matias, PA-C discuss the types of cases we see at Caring Medical Florida with chronic tight hip flexors, snapping hip, and other instability-related conditions.

Prolotherapy for Snapping Hip Syndrome

In this section, we will discuss and describe the use of Prolotherapy for snapping hip syndrome. Prolotherapy is a series of simple dextrose injections.

In more than 28 years of helping patients with various disorders, we have found Prolotherapy injections to be a safe, reliable treatment in helping to alleviate various problems of the hip, spine, and joints. Dozens of research studies have documented Prolotherapy’s effectiveness in treating chronic joint pain.

Snapping Hip due to Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy

Doctors  (7) presented a case of snapping hip syndrome in regards to gluteus medius and minimus tendon problems and dextrose prolotherapy in its treatment.

The doctors also reported that they did not use corticosteroids due to their weak benefit in treating chronic tendinopathy and its detrimental effect on tendon healing.

Prolotherapy for snapping hip syndrome gets at the root cause of the problem, damaged connective tissues like tendons and ligaments. The abnormal movement of these connective tissues rubbing over bony parts of the pelvis is due to these structures becoming lax or loose from repetitive use like in dance or sports or from a traumatic incident like a fall. The dextrose in the Prolotherapy solution, when injected around the injury, causes a mild inflammatory response, mimicking what the body does naturally in response to soft-tissue injuries. The immune system is drawn to the area of injury and immune cells and platelets release growth factors to build new healthy tissue.  The ligaments and tendons become thicker and stronger from this inflammatory response, proven decades ago in rabbit studies. When they do, the laxity or looseness of these structures is resolved and the snapping and pain go away.

The intra-articular causes of snapping hip are usually more serious. But a Prolotherapy doctor, a specialist in this regenerative injection therapy like our team, can determine if Prolotherapy or surgery is called for. Loose bodies, usually bone or cartilage fragments, sometimes do have to be surgically removed if they are rubbing on other structures causing pain. If one has a tear of the labrum, a specialized structure/tissue that covers the joint capsules of hips and shoulders, it can cause pain and snapping. Then the doctor may have to use slightly more advanced techniques to resolve the problem. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is a type of Prolotherapy that uses a patient’s own blood, from which the platelets and their large concentrations of growth factors are used as part of the Prolotherapy solution. Labral tears usually respond well to PRP.

In this video, Ross Hauser, MD demonstrates and describes the Prolotherapy treatment. A summary transcription is below the video.

Degenerative Joint Disease and Snapping Hip Syndrome

Degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, is the long-term result/worst-case scenario of what initially begins as a minor injury like snapping hip syndrome. If your IT band or iliopsoas tendon becomes chronically weakened, it can lead to osteoarthritis. If these extra-articular problems are addressed in a timely manner, then the arthritic intra-articular problem is arrested. When caught early, normal dextrose Prolotherapy can help repair this cartilage damage. In more severe cases, where x-rays and MRIs show bone-on-bone, or basically, no cartilage, then more comprehensive Prolotherapy may be needed.

Summary and contact us. Can we help you?

We hope you found this article informative and it helped answer many of the questions you may have surrounding your Snapping Hip Syndrome.  If you would like to get more information specific to your challenges please email us: Get help and information from our Caring Medical staff

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This article was updated January 23, 2023


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