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Pinched Nerve in Hip? Everything You Need to Know About Treating and Preventing This Common Condition

3d illustration of sciatica pain

If you've ever dealt with a pinched nerve in your hip, you know how painful, frustrating, and downright depressing it can be. But the good news is that there are a number of effective techniques available that can help you take care of the condition right in the comfort of your own home. So come with us as we discuss what causes a pinched nerve in the hip and what you can do to treat the pain you're having now and prevent it from coming back later.

Pinched Nerve in Hip: What Causes It?

Whether it's your back, neck, hip, or hand, if too much pressure is applied to a nerve, its normal function is disrupted and the nerve is said to be pinched.

How does a nerve become pinched?

It depends on where in the body the problem occurs.

For example, a herniated disc can pinch a nerve when the bone or cartilage of the spine comes in contact with the nerve root. By contrast, a pinched nerve resulting from carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by a nearby tendon sheath, bone, or ligament rubbing against or pressing on the nerve.

A similar process can occur in or around the hip.

Common Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

When a nerve is pinched, pressed on, or otherwise irritated by the surrounding bone or soft tissue, a number of unpleasant symptoms may result. Common symptoms you may notice include:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Decreased sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Aching hip or leg pain
  • Burning pain in the affected area
  • Sharp pain in the groin, hip, or thigh

Risk Factors for a Pinched Nerve

Regardless of where it occurs, a pinched nerve doesn't just happen. Something needs to trigger it. Risk factors for developing a pinched nerve in the hip include:

  • Improper sleeping position
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Bone spurs
  • Herniated disc
  • Traumatic or overuse injuries

What Causes a Pinched Nerve in the Hip?

Diagnosing a Pinched Nerve in the Hip

Most cases of pinched nerves resolve quickly and leave no lasting damage. However, if the root cause of the nerve compression isn't resolved, permanent nerve damage and chronic pain may result.

So if you're experiencing symptoms of a pinched nerve that don't respond fairly quickly to conservative treatment, you should see your health care provider. After performing a physical examination and speaking with you about your symptoms, they may recommend diagnostic testing. This may include:

  • Ultrasound: This noninvasive procedure uses sound waves to look for areas of nerve compression.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Unlike an ultrasound, an MRI uses large magnets to create a much more detailed image of the affected area.
  • Electromyograophy (EMG): This minimally invasive test looks for disruptions in the electrical activity in muscles via the use of a small needle electrode inserted through the skin.

Pinched Nerve in Hip: Conservative Treatment

Unless you've suffered a serious injury or have a disc injury that's threatening permanent damage to your spinal cord, the good news is that all but the most severe cases of pinched nerves can be successfully treated at home using conservative treatment options. These may include:

  • Rest: Avoiding as much as possible any activities that lead to an aggravation of nerve pain symptoms can relieve irritation on the nerve and allow it to heal.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: The use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen or natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric can assist with pain relief and help reduce swelling around the nerve.
  • Hot and cold packs: The use of hot and cold packs increases circulation and brings vital nutrients to the affected area, which can assist with swelling and pain.

Diagnostic Tests for a Pinched Nerve in the Hip

7 Exercises to Help Treat and Prevent a Pinched Nerve in the Hip

Because a pinched nerve in the hip is often caused by irritation from the surrounding soft tissues, exercises that gently stretch the muscles and tendons can be a great way to take pressure off the nerve.

However, it's important to remember that the operative term here is gentle—aggressive stretching or vigorous exercise will only exacerbate the problem. With that in mind, we now offer these seven exercises proven to help treat and prevent the pain of a pinched nerve in the hip.

But, as always, if you have a medical condition that may affect your ability to safely perform any of these exercises, or if you simply need more guidance, be sure to speak with a health professional before proceeding.

1. Piriformis Stretch

A common cause of nerve pain in the hip is piriformis syndrome—a painful condition that's grown in tandem with the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles. In piriformis syndrome, a tight piriformis muscle rubs against the sciatic nerve, causing hip pain and symptoms of sciatica.

However, it's relatively easy to stretch the piriformis—and there are a number of ways to go about it.

The following version of the piriformis stretch can be performed on the floor or even your bed. Just follow these guidelines:

  1. Lie down and draw your knees up until your feet are flat on the floor (or other surface).
  2. Cross one leg until the ankle rests just above the knee of the opposite leg.
  3. Slide the opposite foot closer to the body.
  4. Grasp the supporting leg under the knee with your hands or a strap and pull it toward you.
  5. Hold the stretch at the position that works best for you for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 times on each side.

A variation of the piriformis stretch called the lying crossover stretch can be performed by following these guidelines:

  1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.
  2. Grasp the knee of the crossed leg and pull it up and over toward the opposite shoulder.
  3. Stretch can be altered by keeping the supporting leg up or sliding it out straight.
  4. Hold the stretch at the position that works best for you for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat 3 times on each side.

A third variation of the piriformis stretch is performed sitting up. To try this version, simply follow these guidelines:

  1. Sit up straight with one leg straight out and the other crossed over at the knee.
  2. Keep foot of crossed leg flat on the floor.
  3. Place the opposite elbow on the outside of the knee of the crossed leg.
  4. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat 3 times on each side.

You can also stretch your piriformis while seated in a chair. Although you may not think a seated stretch would be very effective, it actually works quite well for the piriformis—and it can be performed just about anywhere. To perform this stretch, follow these guidelines.

  1. While seated in a chair, cross one leg over the other until the ankle rests just above the knee of the opposite leg.
  2. While sitting straight up, grasp the ankle and knee of the crossed leg and lean forward.
  3. For a deeper stretch, place your hand under the knee of the crossed leg and lift it toward you as you lean forward.
  4. For an even deeper stretch, rotate the body toward the knee of the crossed leg as you lift it toward you.

2. Hip Flexor Stretch

Another muscle that's commonly implicated in hip pain is the iliopsoas. This muscle functions as the body's main hip flexor, but when we sit for any length of time, it becomes shortened and tight. To stretch the iliopsoas muscle, follow these guidelines:

  1. Kneel with one leg in front of you, foot flat on the floor.
  2. Place your hands for support above the knee, tuck your pelvis, and press the hips forward.
  3. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on each side.

3. Outer Hip and Gluteal Stretch

When the gluteal muscles and muscles of the outer hip are tight, they can cause hip and low back pain. By stretching these muscles, you can relieve the tightness that contributes to pinched nerves.

An outer hip and gluteal stretch can be performed either lying or standing. To perform the floor version, simply follow these instructions:

  1. While sitting on the floor, cross one leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle and stretch the opposite leg behind you.
  2. Bend forward at the waist, centering your hips and flattening your back.
  3. Find the position that's most comfortable for you and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on each side.

For the standing version of the outer hip and gluteal stretch, follow these guidelines:

  1. While standing, pick one foot up and cross it over the opposite leg, resting the ankle above the knee.
  2. Holding this position and keeping your abdominal muscles tight, bend down as if you're sitting in a chair.
  3. Find the position that's most comfortable for you and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on each side 2 to 3 times.

4. Sciatic Nerve Flossing

It may sound like a dental procedure, but nerve flossing is a specific set of movements that helps free entrapped nerves by causing them to glide back and forth through the tissues impinging on them. In other words, the nerve acts like a piece of dental floss sliding between your teeth.

Nerve flossing can be performed a number of different ways, so let's cover a couple of them.

The first technique can be performed using these guidelines:

  1. While sitting on a surface that allows your legs to swing freely, flex your head forward while bending the affected knee back and pointing the toes.
  2. Next, straighten your leg and point your toes while simultaneously tilting your head back until you're looking at the ceiling.
  3. Perform these movements slowly and repeat 10 times.

You can also perform nerve flossing using this technique:

  1. Lie on your back, raise one leg, and place your hands behind your raised knee.
  2. Pull your toes toward you and lift the leg, making sure to keep the femur (thighbone) straight.
  3. Continue raising the leg until you begin to feel tension in the hamstrings or tingling in the leg.
  4. Back off from the point of maximum tension by approximately half an inch and pump the foot 5 times, keeping the tibia (shinbone) straight.
  5. Lower the leg and repeat movement slowly 10 times.

5. Cat Camel Stretch

Another version of nerve flossing is called the cat camel stretch. Unlike the previous techniques, which focus on the whole body, the goal of the cat camel stretch is to increase flexibility in the spine, especially the lower back.

To perform the cat camel stretch, simply follow these guidelines:

  1. While kneeling on all fours, slowly and gently arch the back and then lower again until the back is concave.
  2. After a few repetitions, increase the movement by simultaneously arching the back and lowering the head and then lowering the back while raising the head until you're looking at the ceiling.
  3. Perform the movement slowly and repeat 15 to 20 times.

6. McKenzie Press-Ups

A simple exercise to improve the mobility of your lower back and relieve symptoms of sciatica is the McKenzie press-up. To perform this exercise, follow these instructions:

  1. Lie face down on the floor with the legs relaxed.
  2. Place the palms face down on the floor at about shoulder level.
  3. Press the upper body up, keeping the hips on the floor and the lower body completely relaxed.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

7. Bird Dog Stretch

The bird dog stretch is a deceptively simple stretch that helps strengthen the so-called posterior chain—the muscles that run along the back of the body.

To perform this stretch, follow these guidelines:

  1. Kneel on the floor on all fours.
  2. While keeping your weight evenly distributed, simultaneously lift the right arm and left leg until both are parallel to the floor.
  3. Repeat on the opposite side.
  4. For an added challenge, bring the opposite knee and elbow together before performing the bird dog stretch on the opposite side.
  5. Perform three sets of five repetitions on each side.

A Word About Trigger Point Therapy

If you're prone to pinched nerves, you might also want to look into learning a little something about self-applied trigger point massage.

What is trigger point massage, you ask?

Many of the same risk factors that predispose an individual to a pinched nerve can also predispose someone to developing myofascial trigger points—small, tightly contracted knots within a muscle.

These tiny areas are known as trigger points because circulation to them is restricted, cutting off the flow of oxygen and vital nutrients. This, in turn, leads to referred pain, which may affect both muscles and joints.

Over time, trigger points can affect the function of the muscles around them, which can lead to symptoms of a pinched nerve.

While trigger point massage is relatively easy to do—and makes a great companion to all of the exercises listed above—there is a small learning curve. Therefore, if you're interested in this proven pain relief technique, we recommend picking up a copy of the excellent reference guide the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies.

By following the above techniques, signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve should begin to disappear within a few days. However, if pain is severe or doesn't improve, don't hesitate to speak with a qualified health care professional about further treatment.

Pinched Nerve in Hip? Try These 7 Exercises and Start Feeling Better Fast!