Why Do My Hips Pop And Snap?

By Ann Wendel

Hi Ann!

Thanks for your article on cracking kneesI have a question about strange popping/snapping sensations in my hip.

I have a problem that occurs occasionally with a weird feeling of a tendon or muscle rubbing over my hip joint on one side when I walk or run. It also makes a popping or snapping sound. It doesn’t cause pain, but it does feel strange and sometimes makes me hesitate when I am performing certain exercises.

Is this something I need to have checked out? Is there anything I can do to avoid this weirdness?

Thanks so much,


hipspopandsnap-pelvic-bones-240x299Thanks for writing, Julianna. This is actually a common issue that I get questions about, so I’m happy to address it!

First, let’s start with the anatomy of the hip. The hip is a ball and socket joint, with the “ball” being formed by the head of the femur and the “socket” being the acetabulum of the pelvis. It is a more stable, deeper joint than the shoulder, and is surrounded by muscles that hold the ball in the socket, as well as move the hip in all directions.

hipspopandsnap-hip-muscles-198x299The muscles in the front of the hip are collectively referred to as the hip flexors. The hip flexors are listed here in order of greatest contribution to lesser contribution:

  • Psoas major and Iliacus (often referred to as Iliopsoas)
  • Rectus Femoris
  • Sartorius
  • Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
  • Pectineus
  • Adductor Longus
  • Adductor Brevis
  • Gracilis

The muscles in the back of the hip are referred to as the hip extensors. They are:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semitendinosis
  • Semimembranosis (the hamstrings)


Since your question focused on a snapping sensation on the side of the hip, I am going to assume that the snapping is coming from outside the joint (extra-articular).

If you felt a snapping or catching deep in the hip, it could be caused by a torn labrum (cartilage) or an anomaly in the hip joint itself (intra-articular). The structures on the outside of the hip that may be involved include:

  • The Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL): a muscle that turns into a thick band of connective tissue that runs down the outside of the leg, called the Iliotibial Band (IT Band).
  • And, the tendons of the gluteal muscles: the gluteus maximus has an attachment onto the IT band and the gluteus medius attaches to the greater trochanter of the femur (the bump on the side of the hip).

hipspopandsnap-hip-muscles-335x338As you bend and straighten the hip joint during walking, running, and getting up from a low chair, the tendon of the TFL can rub across the greater trochanter, which produces the snapping feeling you describe. Sometimes this makes an audible popping or snapping noise, and it can be painful or painless. In some active folks, this snapping begins to cause irritation to the bursae (a fluid filled sac that cushions the tendon from the greater trochanter), which can become painful, especially when lying on that side in bed.

Some factors that contribute to this issue are weakness in the hip abductors and external rotators, lack of lumbo-pelvic stability, altered foot mechanics such as pronation, and pelvic obliquity (the level of the hips is asymmetrical).

Protective tightness of the gluteals and TFL due to poor dynamic control of the hip joint can contribute to the snapping of the tendon. Running on the same side of a banked road can impact this issue as well.

hipspopandsnap-hip-stretch-450x338An evaluation with a physical therapist can help you determine the root cause of the snapping, and develop a plan to address the issues. Your physical therapist will watch you walk and run to analyze your gait, and examine your hip.

He or she can use a number of hands on techniques to mobilize tight joints, and teach you exercises for mobility and stability of the involved joints.

One thing that many patients find helpful for this issue is performing mobility work with a foam roller. Watch this 6-minute video to learn how to use the foam roller for your hips and legs.

Julianna, I hope you find this information helpful, and make sure you always seek the help of an in-person Physical Therapist if you suspect that something is wrong.

We strongly recommend including strategies in your training program to address mobility, stability, and overall movement.

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About the author:  Ann Wendel

Ann Wendel is an internationally-recognized women's health Physical Therapist (PT), a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC), and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT). In addition to owning and operating Prana Physical Therapy in Alexandria, VA, Ann writes, travels, speaks, and consults with other physical therapists and business owners. You can connect with Ann on Facebook and Twitter.

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