I recently evaluated a patient who came into the clinic with the self- diagnosis of right hip pain. When I asked him where his hip hurt, he pointed to the back of his hip joint, just lateral to his sacroiliac joint. Upon further subjective history, he stated the current pain was very similar to his left hip pain that forced him to have a hip replacement 3 years prior. Needless to say, he was worried his current hip pain would lead to another hip replacement in the future.
During the objective examination, I found this patient to have decreased hip flexion, internal rotation, and extension. While he had limitations in joint mobility, general hip quadrant and scour testing was negative. Looking at regional joints, the patient reported exquisite tenderness to palpation with PA assessment from L4-S1. Additionally he experienced pain with end range lumbar flexion and right rotation as well as various core stability tests. Most notably, his primary report of hip pain was reproduced during the lumbar cardinal plane testing. Since this gentleman had both hip and lumbar impairments, where was the BEST place to start?
Initiate Treatment at the Hip or Low Back?
During any hip examination, I always assess the lumbar spine. Since these body regions are connected via the pelvis, pain or symptoms in one region can directly impact the other. Additionally, I always use the patient's location of symptoms and mechanism of injury to help guide my diagnosis. As a general rule, if the patient reports that their pain is located anteriorly, symptoms are likely coming from the hip joint. From a movement perspective, less motion exists in hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation, which places the anterior hip joint in a compromised position if pathology, such as hip OA or FAI, is present. If the patient reports their pain is located posteriorly, symptoms are likely coming from the low back region. Both the lumbar facet joints and regional nerves often refer posteriorly. While the L1-2 dermatomes can refer to the anterior hip joint, these nerve roots are less often irritated, which decreases the likelihood that the spine is causing anterior hip pain. There are always exceptions to this rule, but it is a great starting point to help guide your treatment selection.
What Did I Do with My Patient on Day 1?
Since his pain was reproduced with low back cardinal plane testing, I focused FIRST on the lumbar spine, then SECOND on the hip joint. During the initial visit, I did Trigger Point Dry Needling at the L4-5 multifidus and gluteal muscles. Then, I performed L5-S1 joint PA mobilizations to improve lumbar mobility and a hip long axis distraction manipulation. For his exercise prescription, he was given quadruped hand to heel rocks & repeated supine hip internal rotations. These both focused on improving mobility in general and desensitizing the patients pain.
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