When something goes wrong in the hip joint, there are a lot of possible culprits: bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and more. Just as with low back pain, the source of hip pain can be difficult to pinpoint.

Two different problems, one common pain

Two likely causes of hip pain are osteoarthritis and bursitis. They have similar symptoms, but very different reasons for causing pain.

Hip osteoarthritis develops as the joint’s cartilage wears down. Watch: Hip Osteoarthritis Video

Osteoarthritis occurs in the hip when gradual wear and tear causes the protective cartilage to thin or disappear, causing bone-on-bone contact in the hip joint. Bony growths can also form as the joint degenerates, which can worsen the problem.

Hip bursitis occurs when the hip joint’s bursa, a thin sack on the outside of the joint that protects it, becomes inflamed. Hip bursitis can be caused by an injury to the hip or by an underlying issue, such as a pinched nerve in the back.

See Hip (Trochanteric) Bursitis

Because of its tendency to share symptoms with hip osteoarthritis, hip bursitis is sometimes known as “the great mimicker.”


Comparing arthritis and bursitis symptoms

A closer look at the symptoms of hip bursitis and hip osteoarthritis can help distinguish between the two.

These are the symptoms that are more likely to point to hip osteoarthritis:

  • The pain originates from the inside of the hip joint, so it's often felt in the buttock, groin, and thigh as well as the hip
  • Pain and stiffness comes on gradually and gets worse over time
  • The hip feels stiff and inflexible
  • There may be grating or creaking sensations, known as crepitus
  • Secondary pain may appear in the knee because of hip stiffness or deformity
  • Read the full list of hip osteoarthritis symptoms.

The symptoms that are characteristic of hip bursitis include:

  • Hip pain is on the outside of the lower hip
  • Pain and tenderness may increase when pressure is put on the affected hip, such as when lying on your side
  • Pain can start sharply and gradually change to a dull ache
  • Pain may spread to the thigh, lower back, groin, or buttock
  • Pain is worse after prolonged inactivity (like sleeping or sitting) or repetitive activity (like jogging or climbing stairs)
  • Read the full list of hip bursitis symptoms.

Ice and heat therapy are great ways to relieve pain in an arthritic joint.
Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint

Luckily, the pain and symptoms of both hip bursitis and hip osteoarthritis can be treated. Common nonsurgical measures to treat both conditions include ice or heat therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Moderate to severe cases can also be treated with injections or surgery.

See Hip Osteoarthritis Treatment and Hip Bursitis Treatment

If you are experiencing hip pain that in interfering with your daily life, talk with your doctor so you can receive the right diagnosis and treatment.

Learn more:

What’s Causing My Hip Pain?

Hip Bursitis Causes