Burning hip pain is caused by a multitude of conditions like hip bursitis, tendinitis, a pulled muscle, or a pinched nerve. Burning hip pain can feel like a sharp, searing, or achy pain in the upper outer thigh and it often results from inflammation. If it lingers, hip pain can be debilitating and when left untreated, the pain can become so severe that you’re unable to walk.
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint with cartilage that covers the ball of the thigh bone and lines the socket of the pelvic bone and tendons that attach muscles in the upper leg and thigh. Burning hip pain develops when any of these components—cartilage, muscles, tendons, nerves, or the joint space—are defective, injured, or not working properly.
The hip joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the human body and helps the hip remain stable during twisting and extreme ranges of motion. A healthy hip joint allows you to walk, squat, and turn smoothly without pain.
Below are some common causes of hip pain.
Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), also known as hip impingement, occurs when the labrum, thick cartilage that acts like a bumper cushion around the ball and socket hip joint, tears away from the socket. The bones of the hip joint—the acetabulum and the proximal femur—rub against one another during movement, which causes pain.
The wearing down of the cartilage and the friction caused by the rubbing of the two bones causes degenerative changes and osteoarthritis, which sometimes produces a burning sensation that can also be accompanied by a sharp, stabbing sensation similar to an electric shock.
FAI usually develops from hip deformities or traumatic injury. The pain from this can be felt in the groin area and the outer hip. It’s often worse at night and may be mild, moderate, or severe.
People with FAI often find that it interferes with important parts of life such as sleep, sex, work, and exercise.
Hip bursitis is one of the most common causes of burning hip pain. The hip has small, jelly-like sacs, called bursa that help cushion the bones and soft tissues in the joint. The bursa, which usually reduce friction, can become inflamed after repetitive motion injuries or certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or diabetes.
People with hip bursitis may report a burning sensation as well as sharp, achy pain in the hip and outer thigh. For many people, the pain worsens at night, when lying on the hip, or when getting up after a period of rest. Prolonged activity like walking, climbing stairs, or squatting may also make the pain worse. Injury, like falling on the hip or banging it on a hard surface, athletic activities, and hip-related surgery are the most common causes of hip bursitis.
Meralgia paresthetica is a neurological disorder that is caused when your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, the nerve that provides sensation to the thigh, becomes trapped. This causes numbness and/or burning pain on the outer part of the thigh.
Wearing tight clothes or belts, obesity, and pregnancy are the most common causes of meralgia paresthetica, although injury and diabetes may cause nerve entrapment. Meralgia paresthetica improves by wearing loose clothing or treating the underlying condition.
Pinched Nerve in the Hip
If you’ve ever experienced a sharp, burning sensation or numbness and tingling that travels down your leg after a long period of sitting you may have a pinched nerve in your hip. If the nerve is pinched for a prolonged period of time it may even cause weakness. Obesity, a herniated disc, arthritis, and a strained muscle may cause a pinched nerve. Pain is usually felt in the groin and radiates down the thigh or buttocks.
Osteoarthritis of the Hip
Hip arthritis mainly occurs in old age due to the wearing away of joint cartilage, which leaves the raw bone beneath it exposed. Without the cartilage pad to protect from friction, pain and stiffness set in. If left untreated, you may develop a joint deformity, which may require hip replacement surgery. Mild burning sensation of the hip may be resolved through activity modifications, medications, and/or injections.
Sacroiliac Joint Pain
Sacroiliac joint pain is accompanied by inflammation at the point of insertion where the backbone meets the pelvis. The sacrum is made of fused, immovable bones in the spine and attach to the right and left iliac bones of the hip. Together this joint supports the entire weight of the upper body. Repetitive joint use, uneven leg length, previous spine surgery, pregnancy, injury or trauma to ligaments surrounding SI joint, and gout can lead to sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
The pain is typically worse with walking or standing and is relieved when lying down. Compression of the joint space and inflammation can cause a burning sensation or stiffness in the pelvic region. Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are often prescribed; and in some cases oral steroids like prednisone may be taken for a short period of time to relieve severe inflammation.
Hip Labral Tear
A hip labral tear occurs when the ring of cartilage that stabilizes the hip joint—the labrum—tears off. Without the shock absorption of the labrum, you can feel a deep pain in your groin or the front of your hip. Sometimes labrum tears are small and you feel nothing, except during rigorous activities like running.
Overdoing the running, especially without strength training can lead to an imbalance of muscle strength in the muscles and tendons that surround the hip. Strong quads, glutes, back, and core abdominal muscles are needed to absorb the forces of running. An imbalance can lead to mechanical failure of the structures that support the hip such as the labrum.
The sensation that you feel depends on the location of the tear, but sometimes a burning sensation is reported. Clicking and clunking of the hip during movement and increasingly more consistent pain are tell-tale signs that you might have a hip labral tear. A clinical examination and an MRI are usually needed to make the diagnosis.
When to See a Doctor
If your hip pain is interfering with your everyday life, it may be time to contact a health care professional. If you have a mild or moderate burning sensation in the hip but are able to complete your activities of daily living, ask yourself these questions to gauge whether or not you should get help.
- Is the hip warm or tender to the touch?
- Does the hip appear deformed?
- Are you unable to move or bear weight on the affected leg?
- Did your hip suddenly “give out” from under you?
- Did you experience sudden swelling or intense pain in the hip?
- Have home treatments like rest, ice, heat, or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications failed to improve your symptoms?
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:
- Sudden pain
- Muscle weakness
- Limited range of motion
- Numbness and tingling
- Loss of sensation or increased pain when moving the hip
If you tell a health care professional that you are experiencing burning hip pain, they will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam. A clinical examination may involve a gait assessment by seeing how you walk around and provocative movements that measure your range of motion. The Patrick’s, Ober’s and Thomas tests are three physical exam maneuvers that are often used to observe your passive hip motion and help figure out the etiology of your pain.
After you complete a clinical exam you will also almost certainly be asked to get an image of the problem area, such as an x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI’s are especially helpful in diagnosing occult traumatic fractures, stress fractures, cartilage tears, and osteonecrosis of the femoral head, as well as detecting fluid buildup in the bursa or inflammation caused by nerve entrapments.
Other imaging tests include:
- CT Scans
- Special X-Rays with dye
Anterior, lateral, and posterior views are needed to make an accurate assessment of the condition in question. MRI’s are especially helpful because they allow your doctor, usually an orthopedic surgeon, to get a better view of all the hip structures including the bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, and surrounding tissues.
The combination of a detailed history, clinical examination, and imaging are used to make an accurate diagnosis.
Multiple treatment modalities are used in combination to alleviate or eliminate burning sensation in the hip.
- Rest: Avoiding any activities that make the pain worse can reduce irritation and stress on the nerve, allowing it to heal.
- Anti-Inflammatories: These can reduce swelling, which may take the pressure off of the nerve. Common brands include ibuprofen and naproxen. Treatment with OTC anti-inflammatories is often combined with ice. Ice reduces swelling, while heat helps circulate the blood, which may help reduce pain.
- Heat Pads and Cold Pads: Heat and cold pads are often used with OTC anti-inflammatory medication. It is recommended that you alternate between the two, or use the one that brings the most relief.
- Gentle stretches: This can relieve pressure on muscles or tendons that may be too tight.
- Improving flexibility and strengthening your muscles: Stretching and strengthening your core muscles helps align the pelvis and support your spine, which takes pressure off the hips. Core exercises and stretching are helpful for many conditions, especially bursitis. Strengthening tight or weak muscles can reduce pain and restore balance to the body.
- Practicing good posture: Believe it or not, small changes in your posture can go a long way in helping to alleviate your pain. A good first step is to evenly distribute your weight on both feet when sitting or standing and keeping your shoulders back and level.
- Cortisone shots: Cortisone shots are intra-articular injections that can help relieve pain and inflammation. In some people, an ultrasound-guided cortisone injection is made directly into the hip joint, which provides temporary—and occasionally long-term—relief.
- Hip arthroscopy: This surgical procedure is especially helpful in those with FAI. An orthopedic surgeon makes a small incision and inserts a small camera—called an arthroscope—to view the hip. Once the damage is visualized they can use thin surgical tools to repair the area.
- Hip replacement: A hip replacement is usually needed if symptoms impact one’s ability to perform their activities of daily living or if the joint space becomes so extremely deformed causing unbearable pain. Open operations that required larger incisions were once the norm for hip replacement surgery, but now they are often performed via minimally invasive techniques, with some patients even leaving the hospital the same day.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been proven to relieve muscle tension, but it is rarely used alone for the treatment of burning hip pain. Acupuncture and other holistic therapies—like yoga and seeing a chiropractor—are often used as adjunct therapies to more conservative treatments.
The best way to prevent the hip injuries that cause a burning is to maintain a healthy weight by developing good eating habits, committing to an exercise routine and frequently stretching. Strengthening your core abdominal muscles can help restore balance to your body while stretching can relieve tension in tight muscles. Performing glute, piriformis, and quad stretches 3 times per day is a good starting point for most people.
Consistently engaging in health-positive behaviors is key to feeling the full benefits of healthy habits. Living a healthy life that includes no smoking and eating a balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables also mitigates your risk of developing arthritis and diabetes which directly contribute to many hip injuries.
A Word From Verywell
Most hip pain does not require a hospital visit and will go away with rest, ice, a warm shower, and the use of OTC anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. Stretching and regular exercise goes a long way in not only alleviating your pain but preventing future hip pain altogether. Still, the treatment and subsequent resolution of your burning hip pain depend on the severity of the condition causing it and the limitations it places on your daily life.
The earlier the condition is diagnosed the better the outcomes. If your hip pain changes suddenly or you are limited by your hip pain you may want to contact a health care professional to discuss your treatment options.