Experiencing a pinched nerve in your hip can often be excruciating for people. The nerves in our hips help us do simple activities like walking, running, jumping, and sitting. So, when the nerves are compressed or “pinched,” it takes a toll on our everyday lives and makes the most basic tasks extremely uncomfortable. If you’re experiencing hip pain or lower back pain and think you might have pinched a nerve, read this article to learn some tips for recovery and easing the pain.
Understanding the Hip
The hip is a large, movable joint near the body’s front. Its primary job is to allow us to move around freely and bear the body’s weight. The hip connects the femur (thighbone), which sits above it, to the pelvis, which lies beneath it.
This ball-and-socket type of joint helps to stabilize the upper body during walking, running, jumping, and even climbing stairs. A strong hip muscle group helps maintain balance while standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying down.
Two major nerves stimulate your hips, your femoral nerve and the sciatic nerve. The femoral nerve runs along the front of your thigh and stimulates your thigh and hip flexor muscles. It helps you bend your knees and hips.
Your sciatic nerve runs from your spinal cord down through your buttocks to your thighs. It’s a mixed motor and sensory nerve, so it has both motor and sensory fibers. Your sciatic nerve is the biggest nerve in your body and carries messages from your spinal cord down into your legs. It lets you walk, run, and even stand.
What Does a Pinched Nerve Feel Like?
A pinched nerve could cause multiple symptoms, such as pain, numbness, or tingling in the buttocks. The pain signals of a pinched nerve could feel like a dull ache, a burning sensation, or a sharp pain that shoots through your backside.
Typical Causes of a Pinched Nerve in the Hip
A pinched nerve in the hips can occur for many reasons, each factor in recovery time. Some common ones are listed here.
1. Sleeping in an awkward position. Studies show that over 60% of people sleep on their side. Since the flexibility in our spines decreases with age, it’s normal for adults to sleep on their sides consistently – just one improper position while sleeping can cause a pinched nerve.
2. Injuries. Bones, cartilage, and muscles protect your hip joint. When there is damage to these structures, the nerves passing through those areas can become irritated and painful. Falls, slips, and sports injuries are common causes of pinched nerves.
3. Accidents. You could injure yourself while playing sports, exercising, or participating in another activity. For instance, if you fall and land on your buttocks, you could sustain a hip flexion injury. In such cases, your hip joint can become dislocated, causing the surrounding tissues to pull away and pinch the nerves.
How Can I Tell if the Pain in My Hip is a Hip Issue or Sciatica?
Sciatic pain is commonly identified as starting in the back and radiating toward your hip or down the leg. If you’re experiencing numbness, tingling, or feeling of weakness in your leg, then sciatica is the most likely cause.
In contrast, general hip issues, such as arthritis or tendonitis, tend to cause groin pain. So, if the pain comes from putting weight on your hip or moving your leg around, you might have injured your hip muscles or are experiencing arthritis in your hip.
If your hip pain is toward the front, the likely cause is your obturator, femoral, or lateral femoral cutaneous nerves.
Sciatic Nerve Pain Causes
The sciatic nerve runs along the side of the spine and connects the legs to the trunk. As we age, our joints and muscles decrease in flexibility, putting pressure on our nerves. Often, this pressure causes a pinching effect on the sciatic nerve.
What are Sciatica Symptoms in the Hip?
The sciatic nerve is the biggest nerve in our bodies, and compression of it can lead to many symptoms, including numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and even severe pain. Painful sciatica often occurs in the gluteal muscles, thighs, calves, feet, knees, and hips. Sciatica can be caused by various medical conditions, such as lumbar radiculopathy, disc herniation, and spinal stenosis.
Lumbar Radiculopathy. In lumbar radiculopathy, a problem with the sciatic nerve arises in the lower back. Lumbar radiculopathies frequently involve the fifth lumbar vertebrae, known as the “lumbosacral junction.” These problems can arise from injury, arthritis, or degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis.
Disc Herniation. A disc herniation occurs when there is damage to the soft tissue around the discs in the spine. Discs act like cushions between each vertebra, allowing us to bend forward and backward. They help keep the bones aligned properly and support the muscles and ligaments.
Spinal Stenosis. Spinal stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the spaces within the spine. It can be due to bone spurs pressing against the spinal cord, which can cause compression of the nerve roots.
Treating a Pinched Nerve in the Hip
You should take action if you notice the symptoms of a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve in the hip can lead to pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and even paralysis. There are several ways to treat a pinched nerve in the hips. The following treatment options have been known to help with pain relief.
Diagnosis and Tests
If you’re experiencing symptoms like loss of movement, pain, numbness, or tingling in your hip, your doctor or healthcare provider will check your health history, including questions about your work environment, hobbies, medications, diet, sleep habits, stress levels, and family history.
During your physical examination, your provider will perform several tests to determine the source of your pain. These include a straight leg raise test, a heel-toe walking test, and a range of motion test to check muscle flexibility. A straight leg raise test involves placing your foot flat on a table while raising your knee toward your chest. Your healthcare provider will measure how much your hip and thigh move compared to your lower leg.
A heel-to-toe walking test requires you to stand still and count slowly to 10. During your physical exam, your provider will place your feet together and step forward to a distance. They will repeat the process six times. Afterward, they will compare the distances between your left and right sides.
Finally, your provider will examine your range of motion. They will position your hips and knees in different positions and observe how far you can bend and extend your joints.
Depending on what your doctor discovers, they may suggest other tests such as:
- Spinal x-rays
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
- Nerve conduction velocity
Resting the area is one of the most effective treatments. You can use heat or cold packs to ease the discomfort. Ice packs work well because they help to decrease swelling and inflammation in the affected area. A heating pad will help to relax muscles and blood circulation. You can also take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to ease the pain.
Keep in mind that too much rest and inactivity can slow the healing process and worsen your pain. Try to work in mild exercise to keep your muscles and joints strong.
Making small adjustments in your daily life can greatly impact your hip joints and muscles. Just switching up which hand you use to carry objects may help relieve pain or increase the height of your office chair.
If resting, anti-inflammatory medications, prescription medications, and changing your habits don’t do the trick, your doctor might suggest injections, physical therapy, and massage treatments before putting you through surgery. Massage treatments are often recommended for patients experiencing muscle spasms from nerve damage.
The procedure used depends on the type of entrapment. Some types require a partial resection of the nerve itself, while others involve decompressing the nerve without cutting into it.
Decompression techniques include neurolysis and neurectomy. Additionally, if parts of your spinal bone cause compression on the sciatic nerve, a surgeon can remove portions of the bone or degenerated joints.
In neurolysis, the surgeon makes a small incision and uses blunt forceps to gently pull off the scar tissue surrounding the nerve. The nerve is freed from the scar tissue, and the incision is sutured closed.
In a neurectomy, the surgeon performs an open surgery and removes part of the nerve. With this technique, the surgeon must make an incision large enough to expose the entire nerve length. Depending on the size of the nerve, the surgeon may cut away a portion of the nerve directly or use scissors to trim excess scar tissue. After the nerve is exposed, the surgeon carefully trims away any remaining scar tissue.
When to Seek a Doctor About Your Hip Pain
If you experience persistent hip pain, it might be worth getting a second opinion. Hip problems range from minor aches and pains to debilitating conditions like arthritis. Some people develop hip pain due to injury, while others experience it because of age, obesity, genetics, or poor movement patterns.
Hip pain often occurs because of muscle strain, bone damage, or a combination of both. While some types of hip pain are temporary and resolve within a couple of weeks, others require medical treatment. In general, hip pain that lasts longer than three months requires further evaluation and treatment options.
If your hip pain is severe, or if the pain continues after home remedies and regular exercise after a few days, you should consult with your physician.
How to Prevent in the Future
A pinched nerve in the hips can lead to problems such as sciatica and pain in the lower back. If you want to prevent it from recurring or causing permanent nerve damage, there are some ways to reduce the chances of developing a pinched nerve in your hips.
One of the most important things you can do is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Excess weight could affect your hip structure and pinch your sciatic nerves. Exercising regularly is crucial. It will keep your body strong, improve circulation, help you maintain a healthy weight, and strengthen your bones. You should also eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking, and limit alcohol consumption.
Another way to prevent a pinched nerve in the hip is to pay attention to your posture. Simply sitting or standing for extended periods of time could add additional pressure and make your hip pain worse. Try to sit upright with your spine straight when sitting at work or when driving. Avoid slouching and leaning forward.
Your healthcare provider will be able to refer you to a physical therapist who can work with you on stretching and aerobic exercises. Physical therapists are trained in treating musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. They can help with both acute and chronic problems, including those related to sports or work-related incidents.
A physical therapist may be able to prescribe exercises or treatments to improve mobility and reduce pain. They may also suggest other treatments such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, or surgery if necessary.
Keeping your body active and strong is one of the most effective ways to prevent hip problems. Perform daily exercises and stretches to ensure your joints and muscles are kept in good shape and function normally. By building up the muscles in your hips and back, you decrease the likelihood of pinching a nerve in the future. However, if certain physical activities make your condition worse, stop doing them immediately and speak to your doctor.
Don’t Let Hip Nerve Pain Hold You Back
Many different conditions can cause a pinched nerve in your hip. In some cases, it is difficult to determine the exact cause. However, a combination of careful history-taking and physical examination can help narrow down the differential diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis allows for proper management and avoids unnecessary surgery.
If you’ve pinched a nerve in your hip, be careful not to put any further compression on the area, and seek proper medical advice. A pinched nerve isn’t usually serious, but painful symptoms interfere with daily life.
Luckily, most people can recover from a pinched nerve by simply taking it easy and performing some simple exercises; however, surgery may be necessary in extreme cases. Either way, it’s important that you take things slow and follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.