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Hip Pain: Causes and TCM Treatments to Ease Discomfort

Hip pain can happen due to a hip socket misalignment or an underlying, inflammatory condition. Prevent the issue with clinical and traditional remedies.

Man leaning forward as he holds his right groin area with both hands outdoors.  

Your hip is the largest weight-bearing joint in the human body and is made up of two components – the femoral head and the rounded socket in the pelvis. It allows you to move and rotate and overexertion can result in short-term hip pain. 

Long-term hip pain, on the other hand, suggests a more deep-rooted issue. You would feel it as a sharp twitch in the groin, down the front of the leg, and in the knee.  

There are several conditions that can cause hip pain. Read on to find out what they are and holistic ways to ease them. 

Common Triggers of Hip Pain 

A partial dislocation or misalignment of the hip and sacroiliac – the connection between the spine and pelvis joints – will cause pain.

“Hip joint misalignment can be best compared to rust on a bicycle chain. Frequent use may sometimes shift the joint back in place but can also see them grinding against each other. Over time, the friction will damage your cartilage, triggering pain.”

Real Health Medical Doctor of Chiropractic, Simon Shen

A hip misalignment will also make your sacroiliac joint stiff and reduce your range of motion. Walking up and down a staircase will feel like you’re ascending and descending Mount Everest. Thinking of doing pike push-ups and downward dog stretches? Forget about it. 

What’s worse is, your hip joint will need to go into overdrive to compensate for a lack of mobility and will eventually cause you pain.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), hip pain is classified as a Bi Syndrome (痹症). It’s characterised by blood and qi obstruction in the channels and collaterals.

Stemming from an exposure to pathogenic factors, it can manifest as pain, soreness, numbness, and heaviness. You may also find it difficult to move your muscles, tendons, and joints, and experience inflammation and swelling in the affected area. Over time, it can develop into a chronic Bi Syndrome in the Kidneys (responsible for bone health) and Liver (responsible for tendon health). 

Arthritis 

Elderly woman grimacing in pain while holding her left hip as she struggles to get up off a park bench.
Osteoarthritis is a common cause of hip pain among elderly people.

A common cause of hip pain is arthritis. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis and generally affects elderly people. It causes cartilage damage, inflammation, and bone changes. 

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that results in inflammation of the hip joint, has symptoms such as pain, swelling, and prolonged stiffness.

Another type of arthritis that causes hip pain is tongue-twisting Ankylosing spondylitis. Chronic spine and back pain are common for people with the condition. 

Tendinitis 

Hip tendinitis often affects athletes, who are likely to overuse their muscles, resulting in tendon pulls. When this happens, the hip can become inflamed, and you may experience pain, swelling and tenderness around the joint.

Fractures or dislocations 

Elderly people are likely to suffer hip fractures due to their bones thinning. Osteoporosis too can increase your risk of fractures or deformities.

A dislocation of the hip joint happens when the femoral head disconnects from the socket. Often, the injury is a result of a traumatic event such as a car accident or a heavy fall.

Trochanteric bursitis 

Another inflammation-related condition, trochanteric bursitis describes a swelling of the bursa – a fluid-filled sac – on the outside point of the hips.

Pinched nerves 

A pinched nerve occurs when pressure applied on a nerve by the surrounding tissues — muscles, tendons, cartilages, and ligaments — causes it to become irritated.

You might feel a dull ache or a sharp, burning pain that radiates to the groin or knee. You may also experience a tingling sensation, hip tightness, numbness, weakness, and a limited range of movement in the affected leg.

Holistic Treatment Options for Hip Pain 

A woman pressing an ice compress against her left hip area.
Applying an ice pack to the affected area can help speed up the recovery from hip pain.

Both Western Medicine and TCM agree that the treatment of hip pain must focus on the underlying cause. For example, if the cause of pain is osteoarthritis, you may use a supplement beverage that contains collagen to help regenerate new cartilage tissue. Similarly, you’ll be happy to know that TCM can correct the internal imbalances related to the symptom. 

Muscle, tendon or bursa sac injuries can heal properly through rest, ice, and the use of anti-inflammatory medication. You can follow the R.I.C.E method — rest, ice, compression, elevation — which is a simple at-home treatment plan for soft tissue injuries.

If your hip pain is accompanied by a deformed joint, an inability to bear weight on a joint or move a leg, intense pain, and swelling, seek emergency care immediately. You should also seek medical help if you have hip pain and a fever, chills, or redness.

Treating arthritis includes taking medication and undergoing physical therapy. If your condition is serious, a healthcare provider may propose surgery to repair a tendon or labral tear. A labral tear refers to a tearing of the ring of cartilage on the outside rim of a hip joint socket. 

Physical therapy 

Strengthening your hip muscles and relieving discomfort are the focus of physical therapy for hip pain. Chiropractors will administer hip and sacroiliac joint adjustments to ease hip pain. Once the pain subsides, it’s important to stabilise the joint through hip and lower back exercises.

Exercises and stretches that are recommended are the seated figure-four stretch to target the piriformis, a flat, pyramid-shaped glute muscle, and side lunges, which stretch your hip adductors.

You can also stretch your lower back and glute muscles at home by hugging your knees to your chest or performing the popular yoga move, child’s pose.

Acupuncture

Physician Chu advises that acupuncture treatment is effective for hip pain. Some of the acupoints that offer pain relief are shen shu (BL23, 肾俞), da chang shu (BL25, 大肠俞), zhi bian (BL54 秩边), and huan tiao (GB30, 环跳).

To soothe numbness, your acupuncturist may use the wei zhong (BL40, 委中), cheng shan (BL57, 承山), kun lun (BL60, 昆仑), and yang ling quan (GB34 , 阳陵泉) acupoints.

Herbal medication 

If you’re not a fan of acupuncture needles, you’ll be happy to know that herbal remedies are an equally effective treatment option. Some of the formulas that Physician Chu recommends are: 

  • Tao Hong Yin (桃红饮) for Phlegm and Stasis obstructing blood and qi circulation: Suitable for stabbing, localised pain in the muscles and joints, stiffness, deformity, difficulty flexing and extending the joints, thickening and hardening of the skin, skin discolouration, and a dark purple tongue with spots and a greasy white coating 
  • Yi Yi Ren Tang (薏苡仁汤) for Wind-Cold-Dampness Bi Syndrome: Suitable for hip pain, muscle and joint heaviness, swollen joints, hip movement difficulty, and a thin, greasy white coating on the tongue 
  • Bai Hu Jia Gui Zhi Tang (白虎加桂枝汤) for Wind-Dampness-Heat Bi Syndrome: Suitable for hip pain with redness and swelling, fever, thirst, dark yellow urine, and a red tongue with a greasy yellow coating 
  • Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (独活寄生汤) for Kidney and Liver Deficiencies: Suitable for hip pain, lower limb weakness, back stiffness, lumbar and knee joint soreness, cold hands and feet, and a red or purple tongue with a thin, dry coating  

Easing hip pain is possible once you find out what is causing it. However, ensure you speak to clinical and licensed TCM practitioners before starting on herbal remedies or TCM treatments to avoid potential contraindications. 

Have you used alternative methods to get rid of hip pain? Share your experience with us in the comments.

References

  1. Versus Arthritis. HIP PAIN. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  2. Better Health Channel. Hip disorders. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  3. Bon Secours. Hip Tendonitis. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Trochanteric Bursitis. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  5. Injurymap. Pinched Nerve in the Hip. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  6. Cleveland Clinic. Hip Pain. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 
  7. Mayo Clinic. Symptoms-Hip Pain. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023] 

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