What Does a Labral Tear in the Hip Feel Like?

Labral tear

If you’re anything like the average adult, chances are you’ve experienced a mild groin pull at some point in your life. This tender and sometimes painful injury is just as common in avid runners and other highly active people as it is in weekend warriors and those who spend more time on the couch.

Although most mild-to-moderate groin pull injuries will heal on their own with adequate rest, a strained groin that doesn’t resolve itself within a few short weeks may be something else entirely. Many people mistake the pain of a labral tear in the hip for a groin pull, as both injuries can cause the same type of deep groin pain that radiates down into the thigh.

In fact, labral tears are sometimes misdiagnosed by primary care physicians as nothing more than a common groin pull; it’s only when the pain and limited range of motion of the so-called “groin pull” continue after weeks of rest that further investigation reveals the true nature of the injury: a torn labrum.  

Whether you’ve experienced persistent groin pain in the past or you’re living with unresolved stiffness now, here’s what you need to know about labral tear injuries — what they are, what they feel like, and how they’re treated.

Labral tear basics

As a typical ball-and-socket joint, your hip is made up of several important components — the rounded head of your femur, or thigh bone, the cup-shaped acetabulum of your pelvic bone, and the smooth, slippery cartilage along the surface of each that helps facilitate smooth joint movement and optimal range of motion.

To keep your hip joint as secure and stable as possible, a special type of cartilage, known as the labrum, forms a tight suction-seal around the femoral head, much like a round rubber ring in the lid of a glass jar.

On top of keeping the ball properly positioned within its socket, the labrum also acts as a shock absorber, helping to cushion and protect your joint from excessive wear caused by normal, everyday impacts.

Although the labrum is exceptionally strong and resilient, it can tear under the kind of intense pressure caused by an acute injury or dislocation of the hip joint; it can also tear when repetitive motion (overuse), a structural abnormality (femoroacetabular impingement), or a chronic condition (arthritis) act to accelerate the normal wear-and-tear process within the joint.

Labral tears affect people of all ages. In adolescents or young adults, the problem is often a result of a sports injury or participating in an activity that requires repeated hip flexion or rotation, such as dance, golf, soccer, football, and hockey.

In older adults, labral tears are more likely to be a byproduct of accelerated degeneration, either from a structural issue like hip impingement or a chronic condition like osteoarthritis.

Labral tear symptoms

For many patients, a labral tear injury causes intense hip pain that feels like it comes from a place deep within the joint. For some, this “deep” hip pain may radiate into the groin or buttocks during hip-intensive activities. It may also be accompanied by a noticeable amount of joint stiffness that makes it hard to move normally or sleep comfortably through the night.

Some patients also experience a locking or catching sensation in their hip — which may occur with an audible clicking or snapping sound — when walking, running, or rotating the leg of the affected hip joint. Besides being uncomfortable, a hip joint that locks or catches can leave you feeling less steady on your feet.  

Labral tear pain typically rises as your activity levels increase, just as it usually subsides with an extended period of rest. Because no amount of rest can heal a labral tear completely, the pain is bound to return as soon as you resume your normal pattern and level of activity.

Labral tear treatment

After a comprehensive physical exam and hip joint assessment, a suspected labral injury can usually be confirmed with a simple diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test.

While conservative treatment measures like anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy can certainly help alleviate pain and improve your range of motion, surgery is the only way to repair a torn labrum and prevent further complications.

Our practice typically performs labrum repair surgery arthroscopically, or via small incisions with the help of a high-definition camera and small, specialized instruments. If your labral tear happens to be the result of a hip impingement problem, we can correct that problem during the same outpatient procedure.  

If you suspect you have a labral tear, call our Houston office today or use the convenient online tool to schedule a consultation with Dr. Harris any time.

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