Hip Stress Fractures in Runners

It’s no secret that running as exercise produces several benefits, including obesity prevention and improving your cardiovascular health. While running is a healthy habit, this high impact activity can also create issues, such as stress fractures. During running, the hip joint absorbs some of the highest forces in the body, and repeatedly partaking in high impact activities can result in this injury.

A stress fracture is a break in the bone that happens when minor bone injuries build up beyond the capacity of the bone to repair itself. These occur in the femoral neck of the hip, or the connector between the hip joint and the femur. Hip stress fractures are critical to diagnose and treat immediately. Without treatment, they can lead to severe damage to the hip joint – even in young, healthy runners.

Hip stress fractures are usually first noticed by pain in the groin or front of the hip, and is activity-related. Most people with hip stress fractures feel pain while running, but it goes away with rest. If that pain is ignored, however, the stress fracture may worsen and the pain will become constant.

Diagnosis of hip stress fractures is highly dependent on imaging. X-rays may display stress fractures, but they’re often not detailed enough to pick up a subtle fracture. An MRI is a more accurately diagnoses a stress fracture.

Treatment of a hip stress fracture depends on the severity of the issue. For mild cases, the runner is given crutches and activity modification until the symptoms resolve. In more severe cases where the fracture covers a large area or the symptoms don’t resolve by resting, surgery may be required. If stress fractures are completely ignored, it could lead to a break, which requires urgent surgery. This is why early diagnosis is so important.

Reference: UC San Diego Health System, “Stress Fracture of the Hip”. http://sportsmedicine.ucsd.edu/conditions/hip/Pages/stress-fracture.aspx