This is a really common problem, especially if you are older than 50. There are a few different causes, but surprisingly the most common cause is not hip arthritis (which is what most people think), it is a condition called Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome (GTPS). This is a combination of inflammation of tendons, and little sacs of fluid called bursae (which help cushion the muscles and tendons, and help tissues glide freely around the hip). Generally, you get pains on the lateral side of the hip in GTPS (rather than the groin side which is more likely hip joint related) especially with climbing up stairs and it is sore to lie on that side at night.
You are more prone to suffer from this if you are female, a bit overweight, have lost strength in you knee, hip and buttock muscles, or have leg length differences. It is worth seeing your doctor to check that the pains aren’t related to arthritis, haven’t been referred from your back (like sciatica), and especially if you have any other strange symptoms like lumps (cancer), severe pains (joint destruction), a skin rash (could be shingles), fevers (infection) or numbness (nerve pressure).
The good news is that although GTPS is painful and annoying it almost always settles down without any long-term problems. There are a few really simple interventions – sometimes just taking simple analgesia (e.g. paracetamol) and using a warm pack is enough. Stretching and strengthening exercises are great (your GP can show you), and sometimes ultrasound guided steroid injections can help in more severe or prolonged cases. In the longer term trying to stick to target weight and making sure you stay fit and active with good muscle strength is vitally important.
Dr Cath Hester
These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified general practitioner or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified general practitioner.