Dear CBT: How to Fix Popping Hips?

Dear CBT,

I used to dance. When I was about thirteen I got less serious, and I quit at fourteen. I am sixteen now and getting back into ballet, and an old problem I had is still around and annoying me.

When I extend my leg to the front, there is a point at which my hip will pop. It is not a subtle pop, but one that can make my leg shake and jar me out of alignment slightly for a split second. It’s not violent, but it isn’t gentle. (It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like stuff is getting rearranged. The pop is mostly felt from underneath but isn’t quite in the butt.)

I don’t remember having this problem when I was young and my hips were narrow, so I somewhat suspect that this has to do with the different angle after my hips widened, if that makes any difference. I don’t know if I should be stretching, strengthening, or both, or how to get at the muscles most effectively.

All I do now is sit on the floor with “butterfly legs,” lean forward with a straight back, and slowly straighten my knees while trying to delay the pop as long as I can. The right leg always goes first. I can get it to about half a demi plié’s worth of bend with effort, but just beyond that there is a pop.

What should I be doing to minimize this problem? It’s distracting and uncomfortable, and I feel like it inhibits extension that my flexibility would otherwise allow.

Thanks for your time. 🙂

– Snap, Crackle, Pop

Dear Snap,

I answered this question a while back in email, but I am posting a modified response now due to a recent increase in very similar questions. Hip popping is all too common in dancers. It is usually related to technique problems and overcompensation for a technical weakness through improper placement or alignment. Most of the cases I’ve seen have been tendon rolling over bone. Untreated, it can go from painless annoyance to painful, inflammed hindrance.

The most common diagnosis for this issue is “snapping hip syndrome”, which usually refers to popping on the outside of the leg when the iliotibial (IT) band snaps over the greater trochanter. Massaging the length of the IT band with a foam roller, careful stretching and (if needed) physical therapy can usually correct this problem. I personally battle with this issue, though it goes away when I care for it how I am supposed to!

Hips are complex systems, and sometimes snapping occurs at the front or, as in this case, behind the hip. Again massage and careful stretching can assist by releasing nerve and myofacial tension, though CAUTION must be taken not to massage the direct front portion of the hip without professional assistance, as this area can be very delicate and may be seriously harmed with improper pressure!

Clicking underneath or at the back of the hip to me indicates a possibly more serious issue, as this would imply development of a disability deeper within the hip socket, not around the outside of it. Forcing turnout could cause this sort of issue. In order to better understand these and other variations of hip popping, please read through these articles:

I recommend that you also have this page of anatomy handy in order to better understand the info:

Bottom line, I definitely recommend that you get a professional medical opinion on this from someone that has dealt with dancers before so they can determine exactly what movements are contributing and what technique problems you have that are encouraging the problem. Also, make your teacher fully aware of the issue. S/he should be able to work with you and your doctor to spot alignment and technique issues that may be contributing and help determine whether there is some greater anatomical problem.

Above all, listen to your body. These clicks and pops are direct feedback that your body is being harmed. Please don’t wait until your are in pain to figure out how to stop a damaging progression.

4 thoughts on “Dear CBT: How to Fix Popping Hips?

  1. millicentmouse says:

    Excellent post. This is a very common problem that should be addressed by a medical professional not handled entirely by the dancer herself. No telling what permanent damage might result.

  2. jordoncloud says:

    I had this problem throughout my teenage years until I started modern dance. Turnout just does not seem to be a natural position for my body. I still experience the popping from time to time even at the age of 21. I now have a lot of back problems though I don’t know if the issues are related. I agree with your suggestion to seek a professional medical opinion. Physical therapy has also helped me along the years.

  3. Philip says:

    HI. I have to disagree with only one point: cronic IT band slippage is -not-_usually_ due to problems with technique. It has a variety of possible causes. One, an overstretched Illiotibal band, causing inflammation of the band while in repetitive post/anterior motion over the lateral femoral epicondyle and trocanter. Two: congenital structure of the hips. any such motion can cause a ITBS (Illiotibial band syndrome) to occur. It most often occurs in dancers with wider pelvises. Excessive weight gain can make it worse as the It band has fatty tissue causing and insulation effect to store heat while the dancer is working, thus exacerbating the condition. (This is most common in women than men.)

    The third -can- be correct by instruction. Sitting in the hips, acetabular compression is caused by a weakness in the IT Band. Sitting happens when a dancer does not learn to use the IT band to lift out of the hip on the supporting side. The worst offender of this is when the teacher applies the now antique(Old Cecchetti and English schools) instruction of positioning the leg `a la seconde aligned with passive turnout, (meaning aligned with the flat edge of the femoral head, combined with the focae of the acetabulum from frontal to lateral directions) So, one the dancers over rotates the leg so that the sole of the foot is seen forward. There are two problems with this instruction: one, rotating the leg as such forces the dancer to compress down into the supporting hip. Two, the illiopsoas no longer has the basis of control over the lateral motion of the leg, particularly in pirouettes seconde or fouette’s entournant. This instability is further inpinged by the other core muscle groups as well as the glutteous group that cannot control the leg in any position. Part of the result is the the dancer is forced to place the femoral/pelvic articulartion direction of the the supporting metatarsus, causing a plethora of difficulties throughout the leg, but mostly the hip.

    The correction is to have the dancer position their working leg aligned with the name of the position “`a la second. From second position of the feet, the dancer performs a tendu `a la seconde: all that is required is lifting the foot and turnout out as much as possible. iN height, the upper body must accoadate by either pitching laterally as in ecarte’s, or curving the spine laterallyas the leg lifts the pelvis, -but- with the gluts of the supporting side firmly positioning the weight over the supporting arch.

    The leg is as turned out as it is in any range of motion. The working hip may “open” (move slightly posterior to accommodate the turnout. Meanwhile the supporting side must lift over the supporting arch and the supporting foot must place the fifth metatarsus firm on the ground. It is a matter of conquering weakness. This is relative to the dancer’s body. the dancer’s body is shaped according to proscenium so that there is a uniformity to be witnessed amongst all dancers – particularly corps de ballet.

    But, to the point, the supporting side informs the working side and visa versa. If the working leg is thought only to externally rotate from the hip, then the dancer has not been taught to use all the muscle groups possible. Same with the supporting side.

    Popping of the hip is common. rest and proper usage can mitigate it is some dancers. However, certain body types will struggle with it, regardless. And, I agree: a visit to an orthopod or PT may be in order.
    The photo associated with the blog post shows this problem to a small degree. The girl is pushing down against her It band and rotating her working leg forward of `a la seconde. With a simple nudge she could be corrected. But, worse, here is a URL of a photo of a retired dancer performing `a la seconde incorrectly. Look at the photo. See how she sits pulling back and side in her hips, the compression against her knees and torque in her ankle? The position should have been corrected while she was young.

    Philip, another classical ballet teacher! ;@)

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