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Your hip hurts, and you don’t know what to do. Is it serious enough to see a doctor? Or should you tough it out a little longer?

It depends on what the problem is.

"The hip is a complicated region with the bony joint itself, 24 muscles that cross it, and a lot of nerves," says Peter Moley, MD, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

The first step is to get clear on what you feel and whether it’s a new problem or an old one that’s flaring up.

Or maybe it’s not even your hip at all.

"Most people don’t know where their hip is," says Andrew Freiberg, MD, chief of Hip & Knee Replacement Service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

When you "put your hands on your hips," you might actually put them on part of your pelvis. Your hip joint is much deeper, closer to the groin, and harder to feel with your fingers.

"If you’re sitting in a chair and you put your right hand across your body to your left hip and you bend your knee up towards the ceiling a little bit, you can feel where it rotates and bends," Freiberg says. "That’s where the hip joint is."

Keep Moving

Did your hip pain begin after you started a new workout plan or activity? "Stop the program, but don’t stop all activity," Moley says.

"Frequent moderate activity is probably the healthiest thing you can do for a joint, whether it’s the joint or the muscle that’s causing you pain," Moley says. "Completely shutting down isn’t good for you."

Try These Exercises

While you take a few days rest from the activities that might cause your pain, try these other exercises that Moley recommends. "Work on stretching, balance, and range of motion," he says.

Figure-four stretch: Hold onto something if you need to while doing this exercise.

  • Stand on one leg.
  • Bend the knee of the other leg, and place the ankle of that leg on your standing knee. Your legs should make the shape of the number four.
  • Bend your standing knee as if you were sitting down in a chair with one leg crossed over the other. You should feel a deep stretch in the hip muscles on the standing leg side.
  • Do this on both sides.