Ever since I was a young teenager (maybe around 13 or 14), I've had a snapping hip problem. The general consensus at that time was to just ignore it. Now I'm in my late 30s and it is still bothering me. Should I see someone about this before another 20 years go by -- or is it still considered a benign problem (don't worry about it)?
It might depend on the cause of the problem. If you have a femoroacetabular impingement, then early osteoarthritis is possible, even probable. Just the slightest change in the morphology (shape and structure) of the hip joint can cause problems like this.
Femoroacetabular impingement refers to some portion of the soft tissue around the hip socket getting pinched or compressed. Femoroacetabular tells us the impingement is occurring where the femur (thigh bone) meets the acetabulum (hip socket). There are several different types of impingement. They differ slightly depending on what gets pinched and where the impingement occurs.
The first type of femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) is called pincer impingement. This type occurs when the rim of the acetabulum (hip socket) sticks out farther than normal.
There are several causes of this problem. There can be an overgrowth of cartilage forming the rim or even extra bone that forms in the area. Sometimes the hip socket is tilted backward slightly. In either case, every time the athlete flexes the hip, the rim that's sticking out too far pinches the labrum against the neck of the femur. The labrum is a fibrous rim of cartilage around the socket to help give it some depth. It is a normal part of the hip biology.
The second type of femoroacetabular impingement is called CAM impingement. Normally, the head of the femur is a smooth, round shape. It is even all around so it can rotate inside the socket evenly. But any change in the shape can cause it to hit one point of the socket more than the others as the head of the femur moves inside the socket.
The asymmetrical rotation of the pistol-shaped femoral head is called the cam effect. Anytime something repeatedly rubs against something unevenly, there is uneven wear, tear, and damage. In this case, when the hip is flexed or bent, the unevenly shaped femoral head doesn't glide over the labrum as it should. Instead, it bumps up against the edge of the cartilage. Over time, the labrum gets worn down to the bone.
And finally, the third type of femoroacetabular impingement is a combination of the two just described (pincer and cam). Cam impingement is more common in males and brings on symptoms earlier than the pincer type. The combination of both types together causes problems sooner than if only one type was present.
The best thing to do is see an orthopedic surgeon for an examination and diagnosis. It may be good to do this before any more time passes by. Early recognition and treatment of most hip disorders involving the soft tissue structures help prevent serious complications later.
J. W. Thomas Byrd, MD. Femoroacetabular Impingement in Athletes, Part 1: Cause and Assessment. In Sports Health. July/August 2010. Vol. 2. No. 4. Pp. 321-333.
*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.