Hip Pain as You Age

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 15, 2021
5 min read

Having hip pain as you age is more common than you think. About 50% of older adults say they have hip or knee pain. Luckily, there are things you can do to feel better.

Hip pain can be caused by arthritis, injuries, pinched nerves, or other causes, like cancer. Where you’re having hip pain can help pinpoint the cause. Chances are, you’ll feel it in the inside of your hip or your groin. If you have pain near your upper thigh, the outside of your hip, or the outer part of your buttocks, the pain is probably because of another issue within the ligaments, muscles, tendons, or other tissues near your hip.

Roy I. Davidovitch, MD, the Julia Koch associate professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Health, says inflammation around the hip isn’t uncommon. It often has to do with “altered gait mechanics,” or how you move.

“The most common thing that happens when you get older is you can get inflamed bursa,” Davidovitch says. If you have inflammation in your hip’s bursae, you’ll probably feel it when you move.

“When they start to walk, it could irritate the bursa because of that imbalance, and that’s usually the type of hip pain that’s tender to the touch,” he says. “People feel that when they’re walking, but also, they can push on the pain, and it’s right on the side of the hip. It’s actually the bump on the side of the hip that most people call my hip.”

Davidovitch said hip joint pain is usually in the groin, the place where your lower abdomen and your upper thigh meet. Although there are plenty of reasons your hip might be hurting, osteoarthritis of the hip could be the answer. It’s pretty common as you age.

“It can hurt with sitting, sleeping, walking, and it’s not the kind of pain that you can push on or touch. It’s deeper inside. I’ve heard my patients describe it as like a toothache,” he says.

Kevin Perry, an orthopedic surgeon with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, says there are many ways to prevent hip pain.

“In general, the best way to prevent hip pain as we age is to maintain a healthy weight, participate in a regular, low-impact exercise program, and to maintain strong and healthy bones,” he says.

“There are certain things that I think are really good for hips specifically from an exercise perspective,” Davidovitch says. “Getting on a bicycle is very good for all of your joints below the waist -- your hip, your knee, your ankle -- but definitely for the hip.”

Other things you can do to prevent hip pain include:

  • Clear walking areas in your house to prevent falls.
  • Warm up and cool down before and after you work out.
  • Don’t work out if you’re in a lot of pain.
  • Keep a healthy weight, since extra weight can put more pressure on your joints.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stretch every day to keep up the flexibility in your hip.
  • Use a walker or cane if you need it.
  • Wear good shoes.

Perry also suggests avoiding high-impact sports that put pressure on your joints. High impact sports include:

If your hip pain isn’t serious, you can try self-care tips, including:

  • Heat or ice. Taking a warm shower or bath can get your body ready to do stretching exercises to help pain. On the other hand, you can try using a bag of frozen veggies or ice cubes wrapped in cloth to put on your hip.
  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help, too.
  • Rest. Try not to put direct pressure on the joint or bend your hip a lot. Don’t sit for long periods of time, and try not to sleep on the side that hurts.

Davidovitch said there are a few things you can do to help hip pain.

“If you’re starting to have some hip pain, you probably don’t want to be a runner,” he says. “Before I send somebody for physical therapy, I’d like them to first go and just take a couple of Pilates classes and see if that really helps them because Pilates is very much non-impact and focuses on core strengthening and toning.”

Though he suggests Pilates, he says people with hip pain should skip yoga. While Pilates can make hip pain better, some kinds of yoga can make it worse.

“If you’re starting to have pain and you’re starting to develop early arthritis or cartilage injuries in the hip,” yoga poses that involve twisting and lunging can be harmful, Davidovitch says.

Some older adults have found relief with hip surgery, particularly hip replacement, when exercise, physical therapy, and medications haven’t helped. If your doctor tells you your hip joint is damaged or deformed, hip surgery might be a good option.

“When people developed hip arthritis, it’s a very unforgiving pain unlike knee arthritis, so the average age for people to have a hip replacement is younger by a number of years compared to the average age of those having knee replacements,” Davidovitch says.

You should see a doctor anytime you have hip pain that gets in the way of everyday life, Davidovitch says. If the pain isn’t responding to rest or over-the-counter pain relievers, you’re unable to bear weight through your hip, or if your symptoms change suddenly, it’s time to see a doctor, Perry says.

Taking anti-inflammatories all the time is not good for you, especially as you age. The older you get, the more you’ll want to avoid the anti-inflammatories, Davidovitch says.

Tell your doctor if you have hip pain. They can advise you if you need to see a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon.

You should go to the ER if you hurt yourself and have hip pain that goes along with symptoms like:

  • Having trouble moving your hip or leg
  • Not being able to move your hip or leg
  • Noticing that your joint looks deformed
  • Serious pain
  • Signs of infection, like redness, chills, or fever
  • Sudden swelling