Hip labral tears occur when the labrum, a band of cartilage surrounding the hip joint, is injured. Labral injuries can be the result of trauma, such as a fall or a car accident, but are most commonly caused by repetitive stress to the hip joint. Individuals who participate in sports such as hockey, soccer, or long-distance running—which require extremes of motion, repetitive twisting, or sharp movements like “cutting”—are most often diagnosed with labral tears. To treat the symptoms associated with a labral tear, physical therapists typically prescribe a combination of stretching and strengthening activities to decrease irritation in the hip.
A hip labral tear occurs when there is damage to the labrum (ring of cartilage) within the hip joint. The hip joint is where the thigh bone (femur) meets the pelvis (ilium). It is described as a ball-and-socket joint. This design allows the hip to move in several directions. The bony hip socket is surrounded by the labrum, which provides additional stability and shock absorption to the hip joint.
A labral tear results when a part of the labrum separates or is pulled away from the socket. Most commonly, a labral tear is the result of repetitive stress (loading) causing irritation to the hip, often due to long-distance running or performing repeated, sharp, sports movements, such as twisting and cutting.
Repetitive loading is more likely to result in injury to the labrum when there are bony abnormalities at the hip joint. For example, hip impingement is a condition resulting in hip pain due to abnormal bony contact between the ball and socket. As the hip is moved into specific positions, this bony contact can place greater stress on the labrum.
Hip labral tears may result from a combination of several different variables, including:
Once torn, the labral tissue in the hip does not have the ability to heal on its own. There are surgical procedures to remove or repair torn labral tissue; however, treatment for a labral tear often begins with a course of physical therapy.
Nonsurgical treatment efforts are focused on addressing symptoms by maximizing the strength and mobility of the hip to minimize the stress placed on the injured area. In some cases, patients are able to achieve a satisfactory level of activity without surgery.
Surgical interventions are available to clean out the hip joint, and repair or reconstruct the torn labral tissue. Following surgery, patients will complete several months of physical therapy to regain function of the hip.
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Many people have labral tears in the hip and do not experience symptoms; however, some labral tears can result in significant pain or limitations. Pain in the front of the hip or in the groin resulting from a hip labral tear can cause an individual to have limited ability to stand, walk, climb stairs, squat, or participate in recreational activities.
With a labral tear, you may experience:
Your physical therapist will begin your evaluation by gathering information about your condition and medical history. Although a hip labral tear may be the result of a single injury, it most likely is a condition that develops as a consequence of repetitive irritation in the hip. Your physical therapist may ask you to describe:
Your physical examination will focus on the region where your symptoms are occurring, but also include other areas that may have been affected as your body adjusted to pain. Your physical therapist may watch you walk, step onto a stair, squat, or balance on one leg.
Your physical therapist will gently but skillfully palpate (touch) the front, side, and back of your hip to determine exactly where it is most painful. The therapist will assess the mobility and strength of your hip and other regions of the body to determine the areas that require treatment.
Following the interview and physical examination, your physical therapist will discuss the findings with you and, through mutual collaboration, develop an individualized treatment program to begin your recovery.
Your physical therapist also may refer you to an orthopedic physician who specializes in hip injuries for diagnostic imaging (ie, X-ray, MRI). An X-ray helps to identify any bony abnormalities, such as those that occur with hip impingement, which may be contributing to your pain. An MRI helps to identify a labral tear.
When you have been diagnosed with a hip labral tear, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a plan to help achieve your specific goals. To do so, your therapist will select treatment strategies in any or all of the following areas:
Education. Your physical therapist will work with you to identify and change any external factors causing your pain, such as exercise selection, footwear, or the amount of exercises you perform.
Pain management. Many pain-relief strategies may be implemented; the most beneficial strategy to alleviate hip pain is to apply ice to the area and to decrease or eliminate specific activities causing your symptoms. Your physical therapist will identify specific movements that aggravate the inside of your hip joint, and design an individualized treatment plan for you, beginning with a period of rest, and gradually adding a return to certain activities as appropriate. Physical therapists are experts in prescribing pain-management techniques that reduce or eliminate the need for medication, including opioids.
Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may apply hands-on treatments to gently move your muscles and joints to decrease your pain and improve motion and strength. These techniques often address areas that are difficult to treat on your own.
Movement reeducation. Your back and hip may be moving improperly, causing increased tension at the hip joint. Your physical therapist may teach you self-stretching techniques for the lower body to decrease tension and help restore normal motion in the back, hip, and leg. There are, however, certain hip motions to avoid following an injury to the hip labrum. Your physical therapist will carefully prescribe exercises that improve your range of motion while protecting the area that has the labral tear.
Muscle strengthening. Muscle weaknesses or imbalances can be the cause or the result of hip pain. Based on your specific condition, your physical therapist will design a safe, individualized, progressive resistance program for you, likely including your core (midsection) and lower extremity. You may begin by performing strengthening exercises while lying down, and advance to performing exercises in a standing position. Your physical therapist will choose what exercises are right for you.
Functional training. Once your pain, strength, and motion improve you will be able to safely transition back into more demanding activities. To minimize tension on the hip, it is important to teach your body safe, controlled movements. Based on your own unique movement assessment and goals, your physical therapist will create a series of activities to help you learn how to use and move your body correctly and safely. Your therapist also will discuss specific positions and activities that should be avoided or modified to protect your hip.
Hip impingement involves a change in the shape of the surface of the hip joint that predisposes it to damage, resulting in stiffness and pain. Hip impingement is a process that may precede hip osteoarthritis. It most often occurs in young, active people. A recent study found that 87% of teens and adults with hip pain showed evidence of hip impingement on diagnostic images taken of their hip joints. To treat hip impingement, physical therapists prescribe stretches and strengthening exercises to better balance the muscles around the hip to protect it, and use manual therapies to help restore range of motion and increase comfort.
There are 2 types of hip impingement; they may occur alone or together.
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Hip impingement may cause you to experience:
Your physical therapist will evaluate the range of motion (movement) of the hip and surrounding joints, and test the strength of the muscles in that area. Your therapist will feel the hip joint and surrounding muscles to evaluate their condition. The examination will include observing how you move, standing from a sitting position, walking, running, or squatting, as appropriate. Your physical therapist may perform special tests to help determine whether the hip is the source of your symptoms. For instance, the therapist may gently roll your leg in and out (the “log roll” test), or bend your hip up and in while turning the lower leg out to the side (the “FADDIR” test) to assess your condition.
If further diagnosis is needed, your doctor may order diagnostic tests to help identify any joint changes, including x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or diagnostic injections. Hip impingement can occur at the same time as low back, buttock, or pelvic pain, or from conditions such as bursitis or groin strain. The final diagnosis of hip impingement may take some time, especially when other conditions are present.
When an active person develops hip pain, but does not have severe symptoms or joint damage, the recommended treatment is physical therapy. The following interventions can help decrease pain, improve movement, and avoid the progression of hip impingement and the need for surgery:
Surgery for hip impingement is performed with arthroscopy. This is a minimally invasive type of surgery, where the surgeon makes small incisions in the skin and inserts pencil-sized instruments into the joint to repair damage. The surgeon may perform 1 or several techniques during your procedure as needed. The surgeon may remove or reshape the bone on the pelvis or femur side of the joint, and repair or remove the damaged labrum or cartilage of the hip joint.
Postsurgical physical therapy varies based on the procedure performed. It may include: