What hip impingement and hip labral tears feel like.

hip impingement hip labral tear Feb 11, 2023
What does a hip impingement feel like?

If you landed on this article, you likely fall into one of two categories: (1) you've been diagnosed with a hip impingement and/or a hip labral tear or (2) you're worried you might have hip impingement and a hip labral tear.

Whichever category you fall in, you want to know what these diagnoses should feel like.

Is the pain you are feeling in your hip typical for someone with impingement? Does the location of the pain confirm that it's coming from a torn labrum?

Unfortunately, these diagnoses don't help you understand what's behind your hip pain as much as you might think.

In fact, getting one or both of these diagnoses can add even more confusion to your path out of chronic hip pain. 

Let's start with examining why it's impossible to know what a hip impingement feels like. 

What does a hip impingement feel like? 

There are 3 types of recognized hip impingement aka FAI - cam, pincer and mixed. In all three categories, the rationale is that there is too much bone growth on either side of the hip joint.

In cam impingement, there is too much bone on the tip of the femur, the large upper thigh bone.

In pincer impingement, there is too much bone on the tip of the acetabulum, aka the hip socket.

And mixed is what it sounds like - there is too much bone growth on both the femur and the socket.

Because the femur does not glide smoothly into the hip socket, the argument is that this causes pain.

This is what most people are told is behind their hip pain when hip impingement is found in an X-ray.

An image is now created in the brain of two bones rubbing against each-other. This serves as a sound explanation for the discomfort experienced in the hip.

Hey, the pain feels "jointy" right? It’s gotta be from the impingement.

But what exactly does "jointy" pain mean? Is it throbbing pain? Dull? Pinching?

According to major reputable sources, the pain can feel like just about anything:

How about the location? Should it be in the groin? The side of the hip? The back of the hip?

Once again, most reputable sources claim the pain can be felt in multiple areas:

But the location of this alleged bone-on-bone contact is happening where the hip joint is located.  Which is near the groin.  

Why would some people feel pain in the side of the hip, the lower back or the buttock? 

And why is the type of pain experienced (dull, sharp, achy, stiffness, etc.) vary so much?

To add insult to injury (literally), many people have hip impingement but no hip pain. 

Let me say that again. Many people in the general public with no history of hip pain have hip impingement.  (See this study where 67% of 2,114 pain-free hips had hip impingement). 

What is to say that the hip impingement is causing the pain? What if it’s actually being caused by some other common and harmless phenomenon like a muscle imbalance?

This is why there is no way to know what hip impingement feels like. For all we know, it doesn't feel like anything. There is no evidence that hip impingement causes pain.

And even if it does cause pain, there is no objective and consistent pain pattern. For some, it's a dull ache on the side of the hip. For others, it's a sharp pain in the groin.

What matters is not the hip impingement, it's the pain you are experiencing.

But what if you have a torn labrum? What if the impingement causes labral damage? Let's examine this in the next section.

What does a hip labral tear feel like? 

Along with hip impingement, many people in chronic hip pain also get a hip labral tear diagnosis tacked on which can be even more stressful.

Does a labrum tear feel different than hip impingement? Let’s first look at what a labral tear even is.

The labrum is a type of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket and acts as a shock absorber.

It is believed that the constant rubbing of the bones due to the hip impingement causes the labrum to tear.

This tear causes pain and discomfort.

The same issues that we saw in the hip impingement diagnosis show up with a torn labrum as well.

Most of the trusted medical sources list a wide variety of symptoms. Pain can be sharp, dull, when sitting, when standing or when walking.

The pain can also be just about anywhere around the hip - groin, side of the hip, back of the hip, low back or thigh.

Check out some examples of symptoms below from a variety of sources:

  • Pain in the hip or groin often made worse by long periods of standing, sitting or walking or athletic activity. [Mayo Clinic]. 
  • A locking, clicking or catching sensation in the hip joint. [Mayo Clinic]. 
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion in the hip joint. [Mayo Clinic]. 
  • Pain in the . . .buttocks, especially as you walk or run, and sometimes at night when you sleep. [Hopkins Medicine]. 
  • Sharp pain in the front of the hip. [University of Utah]. 
  • Feeling unsteady on your feet. [Cleveland Clinic]

I've even had clients tell me that their knee pain was blamed on a hip labral tear.

And just like hip impingement, many people have hip labral tears even if they don't have hip pain. (See this study showing hip labral tears in 69% of hips with no history of hip pain). 

So again, it is difficult to conclusively determine what a hip labral tear feels like. It's entirely possible that it doesn't feel like anything.

That the hip pain one experiences is not related to the hip labral tear at all.

We now created two problems - impingement and labral tear - on top of our initial problem - hip pain.

Trying to figure out what a hip labral tear feels like actually pushes you further away from healing.

We need to bring our attention to getting out of hip pain, not fixing diagnoses that might not be causing the pain in the first place.

How to start healing from chronic hip pain 

Whether or not hip impingement or a torn labrum is behind your hip pain does not change the healing process.

The fact that there are people who have hip impingement and torn labrums but don't experience hip pain shows us that it's possible.

That you can feel better while still living with these alleged hip joint abnormalities.

There is no way to know for certain whether hip impingement or torn labrums cause pain. And to be honest, trying to figure this out can cause even more distress during an already frustrating battle with chronic hip pain.

I recommend focusing on things you can control. Working on common-sense and safe interventions that can help you feel better TODAY.

Two things that have helped me and hundreds of others with chronic hip pain is learning movement and psychological skills.

Full-body movement that brings balance and function back to the WHOLE body. Psychological skills that teach you how to respond to pain signals in a healthy way.

We don't have to know the “why” behind our hip pain to feel better.

If anything, living with uncertainty is part of the healing process.

To start showing up for your hips everyday and to finally start feeling better, sign up for one of my free introductory courses.