Hip Pain in Adults: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis

Rachel Chamberlain
American Family Physician 2021 January 15, 103 (2): 81-89
Adults commonly present to their family physicians with hip pain, and diagnosing the cause is important for prescribing effective therapy. Hip pain is usually located anteriorly, laterally, or posteriorly. Anterior hip pain includes referred pain from intra-abdominal or intrapelvic causes; extra-articular etiologies, such as hip flexor injuries; and intra-articular etiologies. Intra-articular pain is often caused by a labral tear or femoroacetabular impingement in younger adults or osteoarthritis in older adults. Lateral hip pain is most commonly caused by greater trochanteric pain syndrome, which includes gluteus medius tendinopathy or tear, bursitis, and iliotibial band friction. Posterior hip pain includes referred pain such as lumbar spinal pathology, deep gluteal syndrome with sciatic nerve entrapment, ischiofemoral impingement, and hamstring tendinopathy. In addition to the history and physical examination, radiography, ultrasonography, or magnetic resonance imaging may be needed for a definitive diagnosis. Radiography of the hip and pelvis should be the initial imaging test. Ultrasound-guided anesthetic injections can aid in the diagnosis of an intra-articular cause of pain. Because femoroacetabular impingement, labral tears, and gluteus medius tendon tears typically have good surgical outcomes, advanced imaging and/or early referral may improve patient outcomes.

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