How to think about and address hip snapping

One of the most irritating things I’ve experienced with my hip joints over the years was popping and snapping. I’ve had popping and snapping in my hips both in the inner thigh area and the outer thigh and glute area. Generally, hip popping and snapping is often blamed on bones coming together or tendons snapping across joints.

After many years of fighting with pops and snaps, I think the above two theories have some truth to them. I’m not 100% positive that bones rubbing together makes such loud noises, but I could believe it in some cases. I think the tendons snapping over bony landmarks is definitely part of the popping based on some of the pops and snaps I had for sure. But I also experienced popping, snapping, and “twanging” many times that made no sense based on these theories.

For example, I would get pops halfway down my thigh in the adductors. As I flexed my hip joint, bringing my knee to my chest, I’d get a snap or pop or twang almost exactly halfway down my femur on the inner thigh (right around the insertion of the adductor longus). There were definitely no bones to rub there. Tendinous structures? Well, the adductor longus, perhaps, but there aren’t bony protuberances there that would explain what the rubbing/popping sensation. I did know that I felt tight and weak in my inner thighs.

I also had snapping right near my ischial tuberosity that would happen on my outer hip near where the hamstrings insert. But doing regular hamstring stretches never seemed to have any effect. I also noticed that certain motions were very hard. Planting on a foot, decelerating and pivoting on that foot (hip extension, abduction, lateral rotation) felt really difficult. And sitting for long periods of time made the insertion point of my lateral hamstring feel REALLY weak and almost dead. I tried doing lots of stretches for the external rotators (piriformis, et. al), but that had zero effect on the snapping and discomfort while sitting.

What I suspect as a result of both these issues is that the snapping and popping is a result of weakness and shortness. What does that mean? It means the affected muscle groups were unable to lengthen properly and were unable to produce an appropriate amount of force to produce clean movements while maintaining stability for the joints they control. So I started thinking about the pops and snaps as signs of weakness and tightness and addressed them as such.

The inner thighs were fairly easy to deal with. It involved foam rolling, static stretching, and PNF stretching to improve the neurological control I had over those muscles.

The lateral hamstrings were probably the most confusing. Strengthening them did nothing to improve my situation. I did deadlifts, romanian deadlifts, squats, hamstring curls, etc., and nothing seemed to help. In fact, my hamstring flexibility in the sagittal plane was way above average and never felt tight…

And then one day I finally honed in on the problem and realized that it was all tying back into my lateral hamstrings, not my medial hamstrings. The lateral hamstrings have attachment points that mean they are NOT just knee flexors or hip extensors in the sagittal plane. They also assist in abduction, rotation (and rotational stability), and hip extension paired with extension. These were all motions I had issues with. The lateral hamstrings also get SQUASHED TO DEATH when sitting. I tried doing lateral hamstring stretches, and they helped a little with some hip mobility issues, but the popping still happened.

Then I figured out how to modify some stretches to really nail the lateral hamstrings.

And this is the exercise that now helps keep my lateral hamstrings healthy and keeps the popping and snapping at bay.

If you’ve been struggling with femoral acetabular impingement (FAI), give this one a try and see you how you feel. My own battle with FAI took many years of trial and error. The strategies I had to employ to deal each of the many symptoms had to change and evolve over time, but I’m much happier with healthy, stronger hips.



If you have tight hips and are looking for more ways to help your hips feel healthier and happier, be sure to check out the ebook Healthy Hips I: Restoring Fundamental Mobility and Basic Strength.

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About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.