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Hip popping in dancers - is it normal?

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Hip popping in dancers - is it normal? ​A large majority of the dancers I see have “popping hips,” and for most, that’s not why they started working with me. It’s usually an “oh by the way” comment or only discussed when I ask. For most, the popping is annoying but doesn’t hurt.

  • Parents want to know – will it cause problems down the road?

  • Dancers want to know – why does it happen?

  • The most important question is – why does it matter?

There are several types of hip popping but we’ll focus on the most common – the snapping iliopsoas tendon. ​What’s happening? When lowering the leg from the air, either in front or to the side, the iliopsoas tendon can get “caught” on bone and the audible pop is the tendon snapping over the bone. The tendon collectively attaches 3 muscles originating in the pelvis and lower spine to the thigh bone. The tendon gets caught usually because the psoas major muscle is trying to stabilize the spine while also controlling the leg.

​The iliopsoas tendon as it crosses the front of the hip joint.

What needs to happen? The popping you hear occurs because this muscle is weak and (ineffectively) overworked – NOT because it’s tight – and so stretching it is NOT the answer. Strengthening the psoas (without compensating with other hip flexors) and coordinating hip movement with stability of the trunk and hip of the standing leg is what we need.

What if the popping continues? When the tendon snaps over bone, there is wear and tear to the tendon and other soft tissues around the joint. Enough wear and tear can result in tendonitis and labral tears. The muscle imbalances and uncoordinated hip movement could also result in hip impingement (and many other injuries). All of these things can lead to pain, loss of mobility, and thus, decreased performance and an unhappy dancer.

Every dancer seems to have popping hips. Is it really that big of a deal? Yes – popping hips in dancers is common, but not normal. Even if the popping is painfree now and never results in hip pain down the road, the underlying issues allowing the popping could lead to other injuries in the knee, ankle, foot, and spine. Also, dance performance would be improved if the issues were addressed – and who doesn’t want higher leg extensions???

Can’t my dancer just do hip strengthening and core stability exercises on their own? Eventually, yes. But first, I highly recommend working with a dance physical therapist who can evaluate them and determine which exercises will be the safest and most effective. Feedback on performance of those exercises is also very important so your dancer isn’t reinforcing poor movement patterns and compensations. But, after a dance-specific evaluation followed by intentional exercise prescription and monitoring, your dancer should be able to perform exercises independently with the occasional check-in with your dance PT to progress exercises and keep your dancer on the right track.

If you’d like to learn more about how to address the hip popping your dancer is experiencing, click the link below and we can chat about your dancer’s goals and come up with a plan for how to achieve them.

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