I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
When you tell your doctor your hip hurts, the first thing she should do is confirm that your hip is actually the problem. Women might say they have hip pain, but what they may mean is that they have pain in the side of the upper thigh or upper buttock, or they may be experiencing lower back pain, says Stephanie E. Siegrist, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Rochester, New York, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hip pain is often felt in the groin or on the outside of the hip directly over where the hip joint (a ball-and-socket joint) is located.
Why is back pain still a huge problem? Maybe this: “It is extremely difficult to alter the potentially disabling belief among the lay public that low back pain has a structural mechanical cause. An important reason for this is that this belief continues to be regularly reinforced by the conditions of care of a range of ‘hands-on’ providers, for whom idiosyncratic variations of that view are fundamental to their professional existence.”
Everything you need to know about osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis is a potentially painful condition that leads to inflammation, loss of cartilage, and bone damage. Read our article to find out how it happens and what treatments can help. Also, see a fully interactive 3-D model that you can explore to look inside a joint when signs of osteoarthritis begin to appear. Read now
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic force instead of radiation to create a computer-generated image. Unlike x-ray, which shows only bony structures, MRI scans also produce images of soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. An MRI may be ordered if a problem such as infection, tumor, inflammation, disc herniation or rupture, or pressure on a nerve is suspected. MRI is a noninvasive way to identify a condition requiring prompt surgical treatment. However, in most instances, unless there are “red flags” in the history or physical exam, an MRI scan is not necessary during the early phases of low back pain.
Exercise appears to be useful for preventing low back pain. Exercise is also probably effective in preventing recurrences in those with pain that has lasted more than six weeks. Medium-firm mattresses are more beneficial for chronic pain than firm mattresses. There is little to no evidence that back belts are any more helpful in preventing low back pain than education about proper lifting techniques. Shoe insoles do not help prevent low back pain.
Hip bursitis — an inflammation between your thighbone and nearby tendons — is commonly diagnosed when patients have pain on the outer side of the hip. However, several other conditions can cause similar pain, and require different treatments. "Doctors often assume that pain on the outer side of the hip is due to bursitis. But 90% of the time, it's not bursitis," says Dr. Lauren Elson, a physiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
To ease the pain and lower your odds of an injury, don’t try to do too much at once. “Start with just 10 minutes,” says Arina Garg, MD, a rheumatology fellow at The Center for Excellence for Arthritis and Rheumatology at the Louisiana University Health Sciences Center. “Every few days, increase that time by 5 to 10 minutes.” Your goal is to work up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week.
Treatment options include physical therapy, back exercises, weight reduction, steroid injections (epidural steroids), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation and limited activity. All of these treatment options are aimed at relieving the inflammation in the back and irritation of nerve roots. Physicians usually recommend four to six weeks of conservative therapy before considering surgery.
This Australian study concluded that “prognosis is moderately optimistic for patients with chronic low back pain,” contradicting the common fear that any low back pain that lasts longer than 6-9 weeks will become a long-term chronic problem. This evidence is the first of its kind, a rarity in low back pain research, a field where almost everything has been studied to death. “Many studies provide good evidence for the prognosis of acute low back pain,” the authors explain. “Relatively few provide good evidence for the prognosis of chronic low back pain.”
In terms of diagnosing hip pain, typically a patient will expect when they come in to be asked about their symptoms, and it’s very important to find out when did these symptoms start, how long they have been going on, how frequent they are, if they come on in the morning or the evening, do they come on with any certain activity, and if there is something that makes it better or worse. The intensity of the pain is also important. Does it have any associated radiating symptoms? Is it localized in one spot or does it move? After getting a history and finding out what type of pain the patient is having, which also includes whether the pain is dull, aching, sharp, or intense, then it’s important to do a good physical exam. The physical examination involves testing the muscle strength, testing for sensation, doing provocative maneuvers which might help us rule out one type of injury from another.
How to: Position yourself on your hands and knees, in tabletop position. Engage your abs engaged by pulling your belly button in towards your spine (a). Keeping your hips pointed towards the ground and leg bent to a 90-degree angle, raise your left knee out to the side as high as you can (b). Pause at the top, then return to starting position (c). Repeat, then switch legs.
MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.
Exercise therapy is effective in decreasing pain and improving function for those with chronic low back pain. It also appears to reduce recurrence rates for as long as six months after the completion of program and improves long-term function. There is no evidence that one particular type of exercise therapy is more effective than another. The Alexander technique appears useful for chronic back pain, and there is tentative evidence to support the use of yoga. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has not been found to be effective in chronic low back pain. Evidence for the use of shoe insoles as a treatment is inconclusive. Peripheral nerve stimulation, a minimally-invasive procedure, may be useful in cases of chronic low back pain that do not respond to other measures, although the evidence supporting it is not conclusive, and it is not effective for pain that radiates into the leg.
There is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the “tiny cramp” theory could be wrong. The tiny cramp theory is formally known as the “expanded integrated hypothesis,” and it has been prominently criticized by Quintner et al (and not many others). However, it’s the mostly widely accepted explanation for now. BACK TO TEXT
Some of these red flags are much less red than others, especially depending on the circumstances. For instance, “weight loss” is common and often the sign of successful diet! (Well, at least temporarily successful, anyway. 😃) Obviously, if you know of a harmless reason why you have a red flag symptom, it isn’t really a red flag (duh!). But every single actual red flag — in combination with severe low back pain that’s been going on for several weeks — is definitely a good reason to get yourself checked out.