Recognizing Anterior Hip Pain/Snapping Hip Syndrome in Dancers
This anterior hip pain article was written by Dr. Katie Sun Worrall at Zion Physical Therapy
Are you a dancer experiencing pain in the front of your hips (anterior hip pain)? Have you been told that you may have snapping hip syndrome? You are not alone! Anterior hip pain and snapping hip syndrome are very commonly experienced by dancers. Pain after exercise or physical activity shouldn’t be common, but it does happen. By listening to your body and being aware of the pain you feel, you’ll be able to choose an adequate treatment option.
Pain isn’t always sudden, though athletes and dancers experience acute pain more often than those who are inactive. Sometimes, children complain of pain throughout their bodies, which is attributed to ‘growing pains’. Other times, people are impacted with chronic conditions like sciatica, which impacts the function of the legs. Sciatica pain is typically focused in the legs, but it can cause pain in other areas of the body as well.
There are things to know about hip pain, leg pain, and lower back pain. Read on to find out more about how dancer’s hip pain and snapping hip syndrome might impact your life.
What is snapping hip syndrome?
There are two kinds of snapping hip syndrome that you should recognize.
The first is when the iliotibial band (IT band) snaps over the outer hip bone, or greater trochanter (see image 1 above).
The more common second type seen in dancers is when the iliopsoas tendon snaps over bony prominences in the front of the hip joint (see image 2 below).
Causes for this condition include:
- Dysfunctional muscle firing of the hip flexors – muscles you use every time you lift your leg to the front or side (think fondues, developpes, and grand battements).
Due to dysfunctional muscle firing, the head of the femur (thigh bone) is pulled forward in the hip socket. The “snapping” then occurs when the tight hip flexor muscle/tendon of the iliopsoas snaps over the head of the femur.
Treating Snapping Hip Syndrome
Snapping hip syndrome and other anterior hip pain can be treated conservatively with physical therapy. Treatment via physical therapy often includes neuromuscular reeducation for the hip muscles, lumbopelvic stabilization exercises, hip mobilization as needed, muscle energy and release techniques, and targeted stretching. To help alleviate front hip pain causes and fix your posture, treating accordingly is necessary.
In addition, dancers will need dance-specific exercises in order to improve muscle firing patterns during future dancing. The video link below gives an example of this.
Typically a physical therapist (PT) will begin by training your deep core muscles to improve lumbopelvic stabilization. You may then work on training the iliopsoas, the deep hip flexor, to fire before the rectus femoris, and tensor fascia latae (TFL), the superficial hip flexors, when lifting the leg. Your PT may have you perform low developpes to the front and side. These focus on your muscle firing pattern and technique (not hiking the hip, turning out from the deep hip external rotators, etc).
You will also likely do hip extension strengthening exercises. Specifically, ones focusing on your gluteus maximus in order to help normalize hip joint mechanics as the injury heals. Often, dancers will also need soft tissue mobilization to the TFL and rectus femoris, and possibly the iliopsoas, too. Patients are also taught how to properly release and stretch these muscles on their own to ensure continued progress.
As these stretches become routine, many dancers will see a change in balance and posture, too. Start by testing your balance with some simple balance tests and go from there. When you know how good (or bad) your balance is, you’ll know where you need to focus. Stretching makes people mindful, and might just take you from poor posture to great posture in no time at all. And if this happens while treating snapping hip syndrome? Even better.
Is Stretching the Only Treatment for Snapping Hip Syndome?
Stretching is not always the answer.
Dancers love to stretch when something hurts, no one questions this. But depending on how you are stretching, you may cause more damage than you fix, especially with anterior hip pain. To stretch the front of the hips, dancers typically like to hang out in deep lunges. But what most dancers don’t know is that in this deep lunge position, you are stretching your hip joint capsule more than your hip flexors, This likely contributes to your anterior hip pain.
If you have snapping hip syndrome, stretching in a deep lunge is particularly a bad idea. Why? It sends the head of your femur even further forward than it already is. Instead, make an appointment to be evaluated by a dance medicine physical therapist like those at Zion Physical Therapy.
Another Option for Treating Hip Pain: Posture Devices
Even though this won’t always work, better posture can help alleviate pain throughout the body. Sure, it isn’t going to heal the muscles or make them stronger. But changing the way that you carry yourself takes the pressure off of often-used parts of the body like the back, legs, arms, and even your neck. Posture devices and options include the following:
Specific stretches and exercises meant to help patients focus on their bodies
Posture-improvement clothing items
Where to Seek Out Snapping Hip Syndrome Treatment and Help for Improving Posture
You can find a clinic in your area and within your insurance network by using the BetterPT physical therapy clinic locator. This puts you into contact with a physical therapy clinic that can truly help improve your health, fitness, and pain. If you’re on the go, choosing to download the BetterPT app. This is a great alternative, putting information about these professionals in the palm of your hand. Until your appointment, focus on making changes at home and at work. Ergonomic injury prevention is just as essential as taking care of yourself in your free time.
Don’t let your hip pain stop you from dancing and being your best! Schedule an appointment today and begin working on good posture, hip pain relief, and general well-being.
Dr. Katie Worrall got her start in the physical therapy field based on her prior experience as a professional dancer in New York City. Her interest in the field stems from her own personal experiences with dance, injury and physical therapy based recovery, and motivates her each day. This motivation makes it possible for her to help others in the way that she previously was. Not only is Dr. Worrall a Doctorate of Physical Therapy graduate from Columbia University she has also completed clinical dance medicine and orthopedics rotations at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, and hosts injury prevention workshops for current dancers.