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St. Mary's Center for Orthopaedics

Labral Tears of the Hip (Hip Labrum)

A hip labral tear involves the ring of soft elastic tissue, called the labrum, which follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint. The labrum acts like a socket to hold the ball at the top of your thighbone (femur) in place. The shape of the labrum is triangular in cross-section. The labrum acts as a cushion between the ball and socket of the hip joint during flexion of the hip. The labrum is filled with nerve fibers that make tears in the labrum very painful.

What Causes a Hip Labral Tear?

Hip labral tears typically occur from:

  • Repetitive motion. Physical activity that requires one to repeatedly pivot the body can lead to joint wear and tear. This is common in athletes such as golfers and baseball players, who must repeatedly twist their bodies to hit a ball.
  • Osteoarthritis. Increased friction from osteoarthritis symptoms inside the hip joint may lead to labral tear.
  • Trauma. Dislocation or violent, direct impact to the hip joint may cause labral tears. This is common in athletes and victims of car accidents.
  • Structural Abnormalities. Some people are born with abnormal hip structures, which increase the progression of wear and tear on the hip joint. These problems may lead to labral tears.

What are the Symptoms of a Hip Labral Tear?

Some labral tears cause no signs or symptoms. However, when symptoms are present, they include:

  • Radiating pain in the hip and groin
  • A clicking, catching or locking sensation in the hip joint
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • A limited range of motion

How is a Hip Labral Tear Diagnosed?

A physical examination by your doctor will help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. X-rays will allow your physician to take a closer look at the bone and rule out other possible underlying conditions. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to further examine the soft tissues.

Hip pain can be caused by problems within the joint or outside the joint. Your doctor may suggest injecting an anesthetic into the joint space. If this relieves your pain, it’s likely that your problem is inside your hip joint.

How are Hip Labral Tears Treated?

The level of treatment depends upon the severity of the condition. Some patients recover in only a few weeks using conservative treatments. However, patients with severe labral tearing may require surgery. One or more of the following treatments may be used:

  • Rest and activity modification. Resting and allowing the inflammation of the joint to settle down may alleviate symptoms.
  • Medication. Anti-inflammatory medicines may help alleviate the pain and inflammation associated with labral tears. Your doctor may also recommend cortisone injections.
  • Physical therapy. Learning new exercises can help maximize hip range of motion, strength, and stability.
  • Surgery. In general, labral tears can be either repaired or trimmed during an arthroscopic procedure. Depending on the severity of the tear, the surgeon may cut out and remove the torn piece of labrum or repair the torn tissue by sewing it back together.

How Long is the Recovery Time?

Recovery time is approximately three to four months, and it ultimately is determined by how much work needs to be done and how much healing needs to occur before the patient can be allowed to return to activities. The ultimate goal is to diagnose the problem, effectively treat it and then allow the patient to return to his or her normal activities.