Back or Hip Pain? Get to the Root of the Issue


Pain in your back, hips or other parts of your body isn’t always easy to pin down. Your discomfort could be from your lumbar spine (low back) or hip—or both—and your doctor must determine the source of the problem so you can get the proper therapy.

It’s easy to confuse back discomfort with hip pain because the hips and lower spine are so close together (and vice versa). Regardless of the reason, most low back and hip discomfort have one thing in common, and these symptoms make you feel like you threw out your back. Regular wear and strain on the body caused by aging or overuse accidents. (This wear and tear may be referred to by your doctor as degeneration or degenerative changes.). Low back and hip discomfort are frequently caused by lumbar sprains and strains, osteoarthritis, and herniated discs.

Symptoms That Your Hip Is Causing Your Pain

Groin discomfort is one of the most telling symptoms that your pain is being caused by a hip condition. Because the hip joint is placed behind the groin, groin pain usually indicates that the hip is the source of the problem. This groin pain may radiate down to your knee in rare circumstances.

Pain around or over the hip joint is another evident clue that your hip is the source of your pain. Hip problems, on the other hand, might refer to pain in your low back, adding to the confusion about where the underlying source of the pain is.

Osteoarthritis in the hip is the most common cause of hip discomfort. People with osteoarthritis in their hip joint often complain of discomfort in their buttocks, front thighs, and knees, in addition to groin pain. They may also walk with a limp and have a restricted range of motion in their hips. Pain worsens with exercise and improves with rest, and discomfort starts sporadic but becomes more frequent.

Hip pain can be brought on by osteoarthritis, piriformis syndrome, avascular necrosis, or sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

  • Piriformis syndrome is a condition that produces dull, mild pain in the low back and buttocks, as well as pain spreading down the leg (sciatica).
  • On the other hand, avascular necrosis causes significant and persistent hip discomfort.
  • Because the sacroiliac joints connect the sacrum in the spine to the hip bones, sacroiliac joint pain can affect both the hip and the low back.

Signs that your pain is coming from your spine

Unlike groin pain, which suggests a hip problem, discomfort above the waistline that continues down the body usually signals a low back problem. Other types of lower body pain, such as thigh, buttock, and below-the-knee discomfort, may be caused by a common back condition.

The most common degenerative conditions affecting the lumbar spine are herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis. These disorders irritate your low back nerves, causing discomfort that radiates down your legs (sciatica), as well as weakness, numbness, and a reduction in range of motion.

Depending on the specific issue generating the pain, the pain pattern emanating from the lumbar spine can vary. When transitioning from one position to another, such as getting out of bed in the morning or rising from a sitting position, arthritis of the spine is frequent. After starting active, it can frequently improve. Pain from spinal stenosis or nerve compression, on the other hand, is typically made worse by extended standing or walking and reduced by sitting. However, prolonged sitting could also cause lower back pain.

How Doctors Discover the Source of Your Pain

If you’re experiencing lower-body pain and aren’t sure whether your back or hip is to blame, make an appointment with your personal physician. To get to the core of your pain, they will evaluate your medical history and maybe do a battery of physical exam tests (e.g., motions). Alternatively, your primary care physician may recommend you to a hip or spine specialist for an appropriate diagnosis.

Your doctor will ask you to describe your pain, including where it is, when it gets worse/better, and how it feels (e.g., sharp, dull, etcetera).

As part of a physical exam, your doctor may ask you to do numerous maneuvers or motions after listening to your account of your pain. The purpose of these exercises is to figure out which signs cause your pain. The Flexion Abduction External Rotation (FABER) test is one such movement that can help determine if your pain is coming from your hip or if you have sacroiliac joint problems. You lie down on your back and flex and rotate your hips throughout this test. Your doctor may additionally press (palpate) the painful region.

Your doctor may order imaging procedures, such as an x-ray or an MRI, to get a clearer picture of what’s wrong with your spine or hip. Suppose the photos show something that could explain your symptoms and exam findings. In that case, your doctor needs to determine whether it’s possible. Your doctor must decide if what is visible in the photos can explain your symptoms and exam findings.

If your doctor can still make a definitive diagnosis, an injection with a numbing agent may be recommended to help confirm the diagnosis. A diagnostic injection works like this:

  • Suppose your doctor injects medication into your hip joint and your symptoms disappear. In that case, this suggests that your pain is coming from your hip. If the injection does not relieve pain, likely, the source of the discomfort is elsewhere. As a result, even if the injection does not permanently relieve the pain, your doctor may be most interested in your first reaction to the injection.

Know the Cause, Know the Cure: Back and Hip Pain Treatment

Once your doctor has confirmed that your discomfort is caused by your hip or lower back, they will work with you to develop a treatment plan. In many cases, this will involve anti-inflammatory and anti-pain medication, as well as carefully designed physical therapy. Movements stretch and physical activities are taught in this program to ease symptoms and prevent them from returning. Depending on the cause of your discomfort, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to treat it, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Surgery is rarely indicated for both spine and hip pain, and it is only used as a last resort.

Frequently Asked Questions About Back Pain or Hip Pain

Can Hip Pain Be Mistaken for Back Pain?

Back pain is frequently confused with hip pain. Because your hip joint is close to your spine, this is the case. Back pain can be caused by hip injuries similar to back discomfort.

Can Lower Back Pain Actually Be Hip Pain?

Most lower back issues are caused by a disk pressing on the spinal column’s nerves. This produces pain known as sciatica, which can be felt in the hip.

When Should I Worry About Hip and Back Pain?

If pain and/or stiffness in your lower back and hip persists despite self-care and is interfering with your everyday activities, see your doctor. A doctor can precisely diagnose your lower back pain and then prescribe the underlying condition. You can also check for the best adjustable mattress for back pain.

What Helps Lower Back and Hip Pain?

Gentle stretching can help you recover faster. Using a cloth-covered ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes on the affected region can also assist. Naproxen and ibuprofen are two common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat muscle discomfort and swelling.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Sciatica and Hip Pain?

The pain from hip pathology is usually located in the groin. It is rare for the pain to go below the knee joint. On the other hand, sciatica symptoms may go down the legs into the toes.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Hip and Muscle Pain?

Joint pain is felt more often when the body is at rest than muscle pain, where the pain is felt when the body is in motion. This is because the pain from joints is usually caused by the body’s aging. Joints are used to bind bones together and protect them from knocks.

What Is the Hip Pain One Leg Test?

The one-leg stand test is used to evaluate pars interarticular stress fracture. The patient stands with one foot on the ground, and the physician stabilizes their hips.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Pinched Hip Nerve?

Walking will make it worse if you have a pinched nerve in your hip. The more you walk, the worse the pain will become. The pain might feel like a dull ache, or it might be a sharp, burning pain. You may also experience painful numbness, especially in the buttocks, or a tingling sensation.

How Do You Know if Back Pain Is Muscular or Spinal?

Back pain symptom checker: typically, pain from your spine will look different from pain from a muscle. You might feel a burning or electric type of pain, or the pain might be constant. If you have spinal-issue pain, you might also feel the pain that goes down your leg or into your glutes.

How Can You Tell if Back Pain Is Muscular?

Symptoms of this problem can include pain that gets worse when you move, especially when bending or stretching. You might also have difficulty standing up straight. Swelling or bruising in a specific area is common too. Sharp or achy pain is usually limited to the lower back and buttocks. Spasm-like pain or cramps are also.

How Do You Know if Back Pain Is Muscle or Disc?

You may have a herniated disc if you feel pain in your mid-back. This type of pain is usually caused by muscle strain or other issues. The discomfort worsens when you bend or straighten up from a bent position. Movement can help relieve symptoms by increasing pressure on the herniated disc and surrounding nerves.

How Should I Sleep With Lower Back and Hip Pain?

If you have a mattress that is too soft or too hard, it could lead to pressure points which may cause a sore hip. How your sleep can also cause pain. Try sleeping on your back or if you are a side sleeper, sleep on the side that does not hurt and put a pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned.

Does Walking Help Hip Pain?

Hip pain from arthritis and bursitis can worsen if you run or jump. Walking is a better choice, according to Humphrey.

What Are the Signs That My Hip Pain Is Serious?

If you have a joint that looks deformed, cannot move your leg or hip, cannot bear weight on the affected leg. Intense experience pain, sudden swelling, or any signs of infection (fever, chills, redness), seek medical attention immediately.

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