Non-surgical Treatment of Acetabular or Hip Labral Tears

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

Non-surgical hip labral tear treatment

If you are here reading this article you have likely been to a doctor, a specialist/surgeon, and have been told that that catching/locking, popping/clicking noise in your hip is a result of a hip labrum tear. This was likely confirmed by an x-ray or MRI of the hip. You may have been recommended to have surgery sometime in the future. People can do very well with hip labrum arthroscopic surgery. These are the people we usually do not see at our center, we see the people that did not do well or may not be good candidates at this time for a surgical procedure because the “damage is not significant enough.”

Hip labral tear conservative treatments

If it has been decided that you only have a minor tear or that you do not want the arthroscopic surgery usually recommended and prescribed for a hip labral tear, you will be recommended to a course of conservative treatments. This will include:

Some patients can do very well with this course of treatment as well as suggested by July 2018 research in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation. (2) Here researchers asked:

“To what extent can nonsurgical treatment produce symptomatic or functional improvements in athletes with an acetabular labral tear?” The answer they found?  “The research discussed in this review agreed that conservative management of acetabular labral tears produced measurable improvements in pain and function among the athletes studied, including their ability to participate in sports activities. Based on these findings, it appears that conservative management is effective at rehabilitating athletes with acetabular labral tears. However, this method should not be applied to every athlete based on the low strength of current research. Treatment plans should be decided upon on a case-by-case basis.”

A March 2019 report in The American journal of sports medicine (x) found “Patients with symptomatic labral tears can experience functional improvement after a minimum one year of nonsurgical treatment in the presence and absence of femoroacetabular impingement. However, many report residual pain, alteration of their activities, and interest in surgery. This information is important when patients are counseled in the treatment options for this injury.”

The complexity of hip labrum tear diagnosis and surgical recommendations

For those of you who have been told that arthroscopic hip surgery is recommended, you may have received a lidocaine injection to help with the pain and to give your surgeon a clue that the surgery will be successful for you. Below we will discuss how to take these injections one step further to help you avoid surgery and heal soft tissue damage in the hip.

A January 2021 study (3) explains how a lidocaine injection into your hip helps diagnose what is actually happening in your hip. This goes beyond an MRI in that you are getting treatment to help pinpoint your hip pain. In this group of patients hip and groin pain was a problem and lidocaine was given to suggest if groin pain should be addressed as well in the surgery.

In this study, lidocaine was given to people who had a hip labrum tear and also suffered from groin pain. The lidocaine was given into the hip joint.

This study then helps us understand that for some groin involvement is not a trigger point for pain as demonstrated by the patients who were not helped by the injection. For some, the injection determined that groin pain was the actual problem and not the hip labrum and the pain went away.

In other words, hip labrum tear diagnosis and surgical recommendations can be tricky and may sometimes lead to a surgery that does not help. We will let orthopedic surgeons present this evidence below in the medical research presented. Let’s point out that many people get a great benefit from hip labrum surgery. These are typically not the people we see at our center.

The typical non-surgical approaches to treating a hip labrum tear will likely send you to hip labrum surgery

In what you have just read, you have seen and most likely experienced firsthand, that the typical non-surgical approaches to treating a hip labrum tear will likely send you to hip labrum surgery. The articles that we have highlighted above contain research similar to what we will present in this article showing that leading medical centers around the world are documenting the problems and the dilemmas facing health care providers in treating a hip labrum tear for the patient who does not want the surgery.

One of the main questions we are often asked is what are hip labral tear surgery success rates?

This is a question we cannot answer because we do not perform surgery. Let’s let the research from hip surgical specialists and let’s take the words of a very positive surgical study into account to answer the question of what is considered successful hip labrum surgery.

Here is what the conclusion of a 2016 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (4) states:

“Primary hip arthroscopy for all procedures performed in aggregate had excellent clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction scores at short-term follow-up in this study. More studies must be conducted to determine the definition of a successful outcome. There was a 6.1% minor complication rate, which was consistent with previous studies. Patients should be counseled regarding the potential progression of degenerative change leading to arthroplasty as well as the potential for revision surgery..”

Excellent clinical results included:

During this research study period between April 2008 and October 2011, data were collected on all patients who underwent primary hip arthroscopy. A total of 595 patients were included in the study.

The researchers of this study were right to point out: More studies must be conducted to determine the definition of a successful outcome. 

The more hip labrum you can leave behind after surgery, the better

You may say to yourself that is a 2016 study, things must have changed in five years? The one thing that is changing is the idea that surgeons should try to repair the labrum instead of removing it. When you remove the labrum, as demonstrated in research, you accelerated the need for a hip replacement.

A study with a publication date of March 2021 (5) led by the Hospital for Special Surgery Sports Medicine Institute offers this observation:

“Advances in hip preservation surgery have to lead to increased utilization of hip arthroscopy. With this, there has also been a growth in the understanding of various hip conditions, therefore, leading to an increase in hip conditions amenable to arthroscopic intervention. The acetabular hip labrum has been at the forefront of arthroscopic advances in the hip. The labrum is important for hip stability, provision of the suction seal, and joint proprioception (keeping the leg in normal alignment).

Given the labrum’s central role in hip biomechanics, there is increasing emphasis on labral preservation in the form of debridement and repair.

In revision settings (a surgery following a primary surgery to fix and go in and fix what was missed in the first surgery), advanced techniques such as labral augmentation and reconstruction may play a role in the management of labral pathology. Appropriate management of the hip labrum at the time of surgery can be an important mediator of the outcome.” (In other words the more hip labrum you can leave behind after surgery, the better.)

In this video, Ross Hauser, MD discusses hip labrum surgery and non-surgical options

Summary points:

These are usually not the people we see in our office, we see the people for who conservative care mentioned above did not help them get back to work or the game.

Alice had a hip labral tear. After months of visiting the chiropractor with limited results, Alice had an MRI that revealed a hip labral tear. She was able to avoid surgery with Prolotherapy treatments. The significance of her tear required 7 Prolotherapy treatments. Results of Prolotherapy treatments vary among patients. Prolotherapy will not be effective for everyone.

Hip labral tear surgery. Are staples stabilizers?

It should be obvious that we are not big fans of surgery, but this is because we see many patients after surgery has failed to provide functional improvements and sustained pain relief. It is backed up by the medical literature as we outline below. If you take the hip meniscus or the hip labral tissue out you are taking out tissue that the body needs for stability. The surgery will leave the patient less stable. Some patients believe the titanium staples used in these surgeries will provide the stability and support they need for their hips. The labrum is a very pliable tissue. Simply tacking it in place will restrict all the movement the hip was designed to do. It also indicates that the tear found in the labrum was the isolated reason for the patient’s pain. This is simply not the case. Tissue tears are not isolated injuries. Any type of injury affects all structures of the joint.

Research offers concern to patients thinking of surgery for removal of their hip labrum

If the above research was not enough, listen to what doctors at the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute in Italy published in the medical journal Hip International:(6)

In their research, the Italian researchers wanted to examine the kinematic behavior of the hip joint (how the hip moved) with a particular interest in the contribution of the periarticular soft tissues (tendons, ligaments, labral tissue) to hip stability. In essence to examine what happens to the hip when the acetabular labrum is damaged and then surgically repaired.

The study showed that after hip labrum surgery, the hip no longer acts as a ball-and-socket joint (meaning it is unstable and unsupportive for the rest of the body) and the femoral head anatomical displacement is strongly affected by the removal of periarticular soft tissues, labral repair as well as labrectomy.

If the labrum is not there the hip bone “floats” and causes hip instability which can lead to further degeneration of the hip which will lead to hip replacement.

Another study: Concerns about hip labrum MRI and surgical recommendation

If the above research was not enough, listen to what doctors at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA wrote in the medical journal Skeletal Radiology(7) This should concern patients over the age of 50 who had an MRI or MRA for suspected hip labral tears and were recommended to surgery.

Basically, the surgeons wanted to do hip labrum surgery, and are seeking an MRA (A more advanced imaging than MRI where contrast is used), to justify the surgery.

The radiologists of this study said this:

In other words, in patients over 50, advanced imaging and surgery are not supported.

Please see our article Options and alternatives to hip preserving arthroscopic surgery

Was your MRI even accurate? Do you even have a labrum tear?  If you do have a labrum tear, is that what is causing your problems?

The hip labrum diagnosis and ultimate recommendation to surgery can be even more so. Doctors in the United Kingdom addressed the confusion in non-problematic or asymptomatic hip labral tears in professional rugby players and male ballet dancers. This research appeared in the journal Clinical Radiology (8) September 2019

The people in this study had no complaints. But their MRIs were suggesting something else.

The researchers concluded: “Despite the difference in the type of activity between groups, there were equally high rates of labral tears and acetabular cartilage loss, questioning the role that sport plays in the development of these findings and their relationship to symptoms.”

In other words, in this study, rugby players, ballet dancers, and a control group of men all had significant NON -Pain causing labral damage on MRI. What could this mean to you? Read the conclusion again: “(results are) questioning the role that sport plays in the development of these findings and their relationship to symptoms.”

Participation in the sport of activity may not be the cause of your hip labrum problems. Then what could it be? You were told that you have a hip labrum tear.

Labral hip tears are grouped into four classifications

Some hip labrum injuries and labral tears can be caused by a sudden, specific injury or repetitive motions that cause “wear and tear.” The difference between the men in the above study and the people we see in our clinic are their symptoms. The patient with hip pain suspected to the hip labrum may describe a clicking, popping, or locking sensation in the hip. The men in the study above had no symptoms but seemingly similar damage. So what is going on? Simply? It may not be the labrum at the cause of the problem, it may be total hip instability.

What are we seeing in this image?

This is an arthroscopic picture showing the aftermath of a hip labrum repair with a cadaver graft. Full-thickness tears of the cartilage are seen, even after the hip surgery. The unsolved instability and mechanical problems of the hip remained after the hip labrum surgery. This caused the continued degenerative disease of the hip and continued pain and instability for the patient.

This is an arthroscopic picture showing the aftermath of a hip labrum repair with a cadaver graft. Full thickness tears of the cartilage are seen, even after the hip surgery. The unsolved instability and mechanical problems of the hip remained after the hip labrum surgery. This caused the continued degenerative disease of the hip and continued pain and instability for the patient.

This may be why surgery was not the answer some had hoped they would get. The surgery addressed the damaged hip labrum without addressing what was damaging the hip labrum in the first place. This is why new surgical procedures are being sought, there is a problem.

In a recent study published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (9) from doctors at the University Hospitals of Geneva and University of Geneva, the concern is expressed that there does not appear to be options for patients showing degenerative labrum hip tear symptoms: pain, torn, irreparable, or completely ossified (calcified) acetabular labrum short of reconstruction with grafts.

What is being suggested here is that there was a thought that if you shaved away the damaged labrum tissue that regeneration of the acetabular labrum was possible. But studies are inconclusive and one study says it does not happen.

The Geneva team concluded: “Resection (removal) of a non-repairable acetabular labrum does not stimulate regrowth of tissue. . . patients who underwent this procedure had neither results in regrowth nor the restoration of consistently high hip function.”

The damaged labrum did not repair after the surgery.

Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital in Canada found similar findings in their research published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery(10) They too cast a harsh light on hip labral procedures in patients over 45:

Is a hip replacement the ultimate destiny for patients who had a hip labrum arthroscopic procedure? Surgeons say yes in 40% of patients

You are a patient being sent to hip labrum surgery. You are told that within 20 years 40% of all patients getting surgery will need a hip replacement. We get it, many of you will think, I will worry about that 20 years from now. Some of you may be concerned that if a hip replacement is in my future, that means that my hip may get really bad over the next couple of years. This is one of the challenges patients face, the short-term vs. the long-term solution.

Here are some things to consider from a May 2019 study from the Department of Orthopaedics, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Tufts University School of Medicine published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. (11)

The points to consider:

Quick points to help understand the study:

So for example, the patient had hip labrum surgery in 1993, this patient was still be monitored in 2008 (a minimum of 15 years after the procedure and possibly all the way to 2013, the 20-year cut-off point of this study.)

So, after the hip labrum surgery, 4 out of 10 patients suffered significant hip damage over the course of years that ultimately lead to a hip replacement within 20 years.

The risk of revision hip replacement in patients with hip arthroscopic surgery history. “the conversion rate from hip arthroscopy performed in Medicare osteoarthritis patients to total hip arthroplasty (replacement) within two years is unacceptably high.

The idea of hip arthroscopic patients in older or aging patients was introduced as a “joint preserving surgery.” The arthroscopic procedure obviously is less invasive and far from a total hip replacement.

A March 2020 study in the journal Hip International: The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Research on Hip Pathology and Therapy (12)  comes to us from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York. In this paper, the doctors examined the possible risks hip arthroscopy may cause in leading to adverse outcomes after total hip arthroplasty (replacement). The purpose of this study was to (1) determine the 2-year conversion rate of hip arthroscopy done for osteoarthritis to total hip replacement and (2) explore the relationship between hip arthroscopy performed in patients with hip osteoarthritis and the risk of revision total hip replacement within 2 years of the main or primary arthroplasty.

What were the results?

Conclusions: “Analysis of a large insurance database found the conversion rate from hip arthroscopy performed in Medicare osteoarthritis patients to a total hip replacement within 2 years is unacceptably high. Hip arthroscopy prior to total hip replacement also significantly increased the risk of total hip replacement revision within 2 years after index total hip replacement. These results suggest that arthroscopic hip surgery should not be performed in patients with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis as conversion rates are high and revision rates post total hip replacement are significantly increased.”

This is not exactly new information. There had been previous concerns about offering hip arthroscopic surgery to older patients. In 2017 doctors at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, School of Medicine, Kitasato University in Japan wrote in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research (13) of the high conversion to total hip replacement, but, selecting the right patients for hip arthroscopy could reduce the high conversation rate.

In this study, the doctors investigated the clinical outcomes of arthroscopic surgery for the treatment of labrum tear and/or osteoarthritis in patients over 50 years of age. Overall, although the clinical outcomes generally improved, they contained cases in which conversion to total hip replacement occurred at a constant rate. One paper reported that patients aged 50 years or older could have hip arthroscopy if they were carefully screened as the results of this study did not see more conversations to hip replacement. However, nearly 35% of the successful hip arthroscopic procedures showed

Let’s turn to two other surgical studies:

Surgeons discuss saving the hip labrum

Doctors at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say in their research in the Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review (14): that the techniques utilized for the management of articular cartilage and hip labral injuries during hip preservation surgery have changed dramatically because doctors need to figure out a way to preserve the hip labrum so as to achieve the goal of providing labral treatment that restores native functions of the labrum to allow for more normal biomechanical function.

In 2009, Dr. Megan M. Groh of the Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York. conducted a comprehensive review of hip labral tears that pointed out that hip surgeries that remove or debride the hip labrum are taking away from the vital function of the labrum and indeed motion of the hip. Writing in the Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine:(15)

It all comes back to saving the hip labrum, as documented by the research

Research out of Wake Forest University School of Medicine published in the Journal of Hip Preservation Surgery suggests that an awareness of how biomaterials, among them, stem cells would make the future of hip arthroscopy exciting. Cartilage injuries can be managed with a higher level of restorative techniques. These cartilage restoration techniques have evolved rapidly as well and may include the use of scaffolds, allograft cartilage cells, and other stem-cell-related procedures. (16)

Pain after arthroscopic surgery

In an April 2020 editorial in the medical journal Arthroscopy (17) doctors from Cambridge University Hospital in England wrote:

“Pain after hip arthroscopy is a significant and challenging issue as is evidenced by the number of publications on this subject. Various analgesic strategies to circumvent this issue have been tried, with variable results. The central problem is that pain experienced by patients after hip arthroscopy is multifactorial in origin.”

Prolotherapy for Hip Labrum Tears

In our own research, Prolotherapy for hip labral tears was curative in 54% of the patients (no pain at all after Prolotherapy) and overall relieved 80-85% of their pain, which in our experience will end up much better than surgical procedures, because the hip is now stable.

Prolotherapy is an injection technique utilizing simple sugar or dextrose.

Regenerative Injection Therapy (Prolotherapy) for Hip Labrum Lesions: Rationale and Retrospective Study

Ross Hauser MD of Caring Medical and Amos Z. Orlofsky, Ph.D. of Albert Einstein College of Medicine published the above study in The Open Rehabilitation Journal research describing the effectiveness of Prolotherapy for a hip labral tear and groin pain. The study concluded Prolotherapy for acetabular labral tear appears to be a safe and potentially effective treatment.

Here are learning points from that research:

A Retrospective Study on Hackett-Hemwall Dextrose Prolotherapy for Chronic Hip Pain at an Outpatient Charity Clinic in Rural Illinois

In this research published in the Journal of Prolotherapy, (18) Prolotherapy was found to provide connective tissue growth responses and provide clinical benefit with low risks in musculoskeletal conditions. Further, Prolotherapy can be a cost-effective alternative to surgery for patients with hip pain and labral tear.

We examined Sixty-one patients, representing 94 hips, who had been in pain an average of 63 months We treated these patients quarterly with dextrose Prolotherapy.

This included a subset of 20 patients who were told by their medical doctor(s) that there were no other treatment options for their pain and a subset of eight patients who were told by their doctor(s) that surgery was their only option.

The patients have been contacted an average of 19 months following their last Prolotherapy session and asked questions regarding their levels of pain, physical and psychological symptoms, and activities of daily living, before and after their last Prolotherapy treatment.


We concluded: “Prolotherapy used on patients who presented with over five years of unresolved hip pain were shown in this retrospective pilot study to improve their quality of life even 19 months subsequent from their last Prolotherapy session.

The 61 patients with 94 hips treated reported significantly less pain, stiffness, crunching sensation, disability, depressed and anxious thoughts, medication and other pain therapy usage, as well as improved walking ability, range of motion, sleep, exercise ability, and activities of daily living. This included patients who were told there were no other treatment options for their pain or that surgery was their only option. The results confirm that Prolotherapy is a treatment that should be highly considered for people suffering from chronic hip pain.”

Regenerative Injection Therapy (PRP) for Hip Labrum Tears

Platelet Rich Plasma or PRP therapy is one of the injection treatments that may have been recommended to you by your orthopedic surgeon or that you came upon in your research. You may have even asked your orthopedist about “PRP” injections and you were told: “They do not work, they are not covered by insurance.”

Well, that is probably enough to chase anyone away. Except for one thing. There is a lot of research that when administered correctly by a doctor experienced in the treatment, PRP can work well. At our center, we offer PRP in conjunction with Prolotherapy treatments. As outlined above Prolotherapy injections help stabilize the hip, it helps stop unnatural grinding movements that can cause impingements, wear and tear, and further soft tissue damage in many patients. PRP is given to help patch up and fill in tears and other joint “erosions,” Will working together the two treatments are prioritizing a different kind of fix.

Growth and healing factors in PRP. This is what makes PRP work

A paper in the journal Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism (19) describes the growth, healing, and repair factors found in platelet-rich plasma. These are the healing factors and what they do:

So the concept is here. These healing growth factors in your blood are taken and “spun,” to separate out a platelet-rich plasma solution filled with these healing and growth factors, and then the solution is injected into your knee.

PRP is not a single shot miracle cure for hip labrum tears and hip pain. Effectiveness of PRP is in how many times the treatment is given

PRP is not a single shot miracle cure for hip labrum tears and hip pain. While for the rare patient a single shot may work for them, we have seen in our clinical experience, PRP not to be as effective as a stand-alone, single-shot treatment.

Research on the use of PRP in hip labrum tears

A November 2019 study led by the Mayo Clinic and published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (20) reviewed whether ultrasound-guided injection of platelet-rich plasma can safely and effectively treat symptoms associated with acetabular hip labral tears. This was a study on eight patients who have previously failed conservative management and received an ultrasound-guided injection of platelet-rich plasma at the site of the hip labrum tear.

After the injection, (this is one injection treatment) the patient’s pain reduction and functional ability (using standard scoring systems) were assessed at baseline and then 2 weeks, 6 weeks, and 8 weeks after injection.

Conclusions: “Ultrasound-guided injection of platelet-rich plasma holds promise as an emerging, minimally invasive technique toward symptom relief, reducing pain, and improving function in patients with hip labral tears.”

Summary and contact us. Can we help you?

When traditional treatments such as physiotherapy, medications, electrical stimulation, manipulation, exercise, rest, or massage do not work, then consider that you may have a labral tear. If you externally rotate your hip while lying on the ground and keep your foot off of the ground and then run it next to your opposing leg from the groin down to the foot and this increases your pain and you feel a clicking, grinding or popping sound, this correlates highly with the diagnosis of a hip labral tear. If this is the case, then consider receiving Prolotherapy.

We hope you found this article informative and it helped answer many of the questions you may have surrounding your hip problems and hip instability.  If you would like to get more information specific to your challenges please email us: 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.

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

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This page was updated July 12, 2021


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