Hip pain: 7 signs it can be something more serious

A number of different things can cause hip pain, making it hard to identify how serious it is. If you’ve got hip pain, here are a few things to bear in mind.

Written by Medibank
July 2023

The hip joint is not only the body’s largest joint, it’s a very common site of joint-related pain from a variety of causes, meaning hip pain can affect people of all ages.  

So, what are the main causes? When can you classify the hip pain you’re experiencing as 'chronic'? Here’s what you need to know.   


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Most common reasons for hip pain

A wide range of conditions can lead to hip pain. On one end of the scale, you could have a strained muscle, an irritated nerve or an inflamed tendon. At the other end of the scale, there could be​ ​an injury, a fracture or even an infection. Sometimes, hip pain can also be what’s called ‘referred pain’, which means it stems from an issue in another area of your body, such as a lower back problem, for example.  

Hips are also commonly affected by arthritis, particularly ​osteoarthritis, which creates pain and stiffness in the hip ​joint. Plus, not only is carrying too much weight one of the most significant risk factors for developing ​osteoarthritis, research shows it’s also linked to experiencing hip pain all on its ​own.  

What are the first signs of hip problems?

Hip problems usually cause pain inside the hip joint, or even in the groin, but exactly where, when and how you first experience symptoms will depend on the type of hip issue you ​​have.  

For example, if you have a strained muscle or an inflamed tendon around one of your hip joints, the first thing you might notice is pain in your upper thigh or outside your hip. While a bone fracture can cause swelling, bruising and loss of ​movement. 

If you have osteoarthritis, as well as hip pain and stiffness in your joint, you might also notice muscle weakness, clicking noises from the hip and a grating sensation when you move your hip ​​joint. 

How do I know if I have chronic hip pain?

Pain falls into 2 main categories – acute and chronic. While acute pain starts suddenly, often in response to an injury, and is usually short-lived, chronic pain usually lasts longer than 3 ​​months.  

Signs to watch for hip pain

If you’re unsure about whether your hip pain is cause for concern, or when to consider making a doctor’s appointment to discuss it, the following signs are a good guide to keep in mind. Seek medical advice if any of the following apply to you: 

  • An accident has left you with hip pain: If you have hip pain as a result of something like a fall, you may have injured your hip joint. Hip pain can also be the result of a fracture to the top of the ​femur – that’s the thigh bone that the hip joint’s ‘ball’ is attached ​​to.  
  • Your hip pain is sudden and intense: If your hip pain appears suddenly and is intensely painful, or means you can’t move your hips or put your weight on your legs, see your doctor as soon as ​​possible. 
  • The area is swollen: This can also be a symptom of a bone fracture, particularly if it’s accompanied by a loss of ​​movement.  
  • Your pain is accompanied by a fever: If your temperature is 38°C, you probably have a ​​fever and, combined with hip pain, this can be a sign of a specific type of infection called septic arthritis. This is an uncommon condition, but it does require urgent medical attention, so contact your doctor as soon as possible if you’re concerned. As well as pain or tenderness near the hip joint that starts suddenly, other symptoms of an infection include heat, swelling and redness near the joint and difficulty moving the ​hip.  
  • The pain in your hip is ongoing: Chronic pain not only impacts quality of life, it may indicate that hip osteoarthritis is ​present. It’s important to see your doctor for an official diagnosis so that a management plan can be ​developed. 
  • The hip pain treatments you’ve been using are no longer effective: Even once you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and are actively using joint pain relief treatments to manage it, it’s important to remember that osteoarthritis pain can change over time. This may mean that different medications and treatments are required to manage the ​pain.   
  • Your hip pain – or the mobility issues it’s causing – is interfering with your daily life: If you’re finding it difficult to sleep, look after yourself without help from others, easily perform daily tasks or enjoy activities that usually bring you joy, it may be time to talk to your doctor about the possibility of ​hip replacement surgery. 

Hip pain exercises

When you’re living with hip osteoarthritis, making ​​strengthening exercises that build the muscles around your hip a regular part of your routine is a good idea to help relieve pain and take the pressure off your hip ​joints. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist before you begin any strengthening exercise program, so you can get started safely. 

Stretches for hip pain

There are also stretches you can use to combat hip pain, provided your doctor or physiotherapist considers it safe for you to do so, including these the following:*  

Stretch 1: TFL/ITB stretch

Stand alongside a wall, so that your painful hip is closest to the wall and your forearm is against it, horizontally, for support. Place your other hand on your hip. Cross your outside leg over the one closest to the wall and, pushing your hips towards the wall, move your torso away from it, keeping your chest facing forwards. You should feel this stretch in the side of your painful hip and down the side of your ​thigh.   

Stretch 2: Kneeling hip flexor stretch

Kneel on a padded mat on the floor. From your kneeling position, lunge the leg that’s free of hip pain forward, so that the thigh is parallel with the floor and your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Place your hands on your bent knee, keep your back straight and gently shift your hips forward until you feel a stretch through your back leg’s thigh and groin ​area.   

Stretch 3: Piriformis stretch 

Lie on the floor on your back and, with both legs flat on the ground, place the ankle of your ‘sore hip’ leg on your opposite thigh, just near your knee. Slowly bend your ‘good leg’, sliding your heel towards your buttocks and letting the knee of your affected leg drop out to the side. You should feel a stretch through your sore hip. To increase the intensity, link your fingers behind the thigh of your good leg and pull it towards you, until your foot lifts off the ground ​slightly.  

*Always consult your doctor, physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist if you have any concerns about exercising. 


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Does hip pain stop you being you?

Join the University of Melbourne’s research trial, which explores ways to reduce pain and improve the wellbeing of people with hip osteoarthritis. Clinical and product eligibility criteria apply.

Read more about joint pain

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Things you need to know

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).