How to handle an ache in your hip that becomes a pain in the neck

Woman with grandson

Source: Pond5

It happens at least a few times a week. When it does it can take Dee’s breath away. You might think I’m talking about her sweet grandson’s laugh or her husband’s smile from across the room. Happily, those things occur quite frequently and yes, they do take her breath away, but this other thing — well, it’s not much fun. In fact, it hurts quite a bit.

What happens is if Dee moves a certain way she gets a sharp pain in her right hip. She’s learned to be careful about getting out of the passenger side of the car — driver’s side is usually fine — and she always braces herself when she stands up after sitting in a chair for a while. Sometimes, though, that memorable jolt of pain comes out of nowhere. She could be sitting up in bed reading and WHAM!

Dee hasn’t seen her doctor yet, but a friend who’s a nurse told her the pain was probably related to arthritis. Not welcome news because Dee sees it as a sign that even though she considers herself a young 67, she’s no longer a “spring chicken.”  Aaah, the joys of aging!

Hip pain causes

Our hip joints are pretty amazing. At the top of their game, they allow us to move in all directions. It takes a lot to hurt a healthy hip. Most often, when we’re younger, it’s from playing sports, being obese or getting hurt in an accident. However, chronic hip pain is usually because of — you guessed it — an aging joint.

Some of the most common causes of hip pain in an older person are:

  • Arthritis – The cartilage that lines the joint wears away with age and constant use and the space between the bones becomes narrow.
  • Bursitis – A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction when the bones in a joint move. Sometimes bursae can become inflamed or irritated.
  • Tendinitis – The band of tissue that connects muscles to bones may become inflamed because of overuse.

Other things can also cause hip pain and sometimes, it’s not even related to the joint. Instead, it could be a gynecological (female) problem or a pinched nerve in the back. Some people, especially women, develop osteoporosis or brittle bones as they age, which puts them at risk of breaking a hip or another bone. That’s why it’s important to get ongoing hip pain checked out. (I hope Dee is reading this blog post.)

Conservative treatments

If the pain is caused by normal wear and tear (aka arthritis), the doctor may recommend several possible treatments:

  • Do low-impact exercises, such as swimming, biking or walking
  • Avoid repeated bending over and prolonged sitting
  • Lose excess weight — even 5 to 10 pounds can help
  • Use a cane to avoid direct pressure on the hip
  • Apply ice or heat, whichever feels best to you
  • See a physical therapist
  • Take a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory medication
  • Try acupuncture, biofeedback, tai chi or yoga


Dee’s friend told her she may end up needing hip replacement surgery, which naturally upset her quite a bit. However, surgery is usually not what’s recommended right out of the gate. It’s more likely when:

  • The pain is so bad it limits everyday activities
  • It hurts even when you are resting
  • The joint is so stiff it’s hard to lift or move your leg
  • Nothing takes the pain away

Hopefully, Dee’s hip pain won’t get any worse. Even better is that she finds something to relieve it so that only smiles and laughter take her breath away.

If you are in the same boat as Dee, have you found anything that relieves your pain that you can recommend?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.