“We will be in tune with our bodies only if we truly love and honor them.” - Harriet Lerner
The hip joint is an important one for all dancers to understand since it is responsible for flexing and extending the leg, rotating the leg inward and outward, and moving the leg away from the center of the body (abduction) and pulling the leg in toward the center of the body (adduction).
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint which allows the leg to move in all different directions. The head of the femur, or thigh bone, fits neatly into a pocket in the pelvis and is held in place by a web of different muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
An often heard complaint from many dancers is that they hear and feel a snapping or popping in the joint during movements like grand plié and developpé. The audible noise is a clicking sound, and dancers often simultaneously experience a shift in the skeleton, and it is referred to as hip snapping syndrome.
The “snapping” of the hip occurs when a muscle or a tendon passes directly over a bone. The two most common types of snapping at the hip are lateral hip snapping and anterior hip snapping.
Lateral hip snapping involves the iliotibial band which is the tendon portion the gluteus maximus and tensor fascia lata muscles. It runs along the outside of the thigh and attaches to the skeleton near the top of the tibia, one of the bones found in the lower leg. At the top of the femur, there a bony projection on the outside of the bone called the greater trochanter. When the leg is extended, the iliotibial band lies just behind the greater trochanter, but when the leg bends, or flexes, at the hip joint, the iliotibial band passes over the greater trochanter and if the tendon or any of its muscles are tight, a snapping will occur as it slides across it.
Anterior hip snapping happens at the front of the hip as opposed to the side of the hip and involves the iliopsoas, which is the merging of the iliacus and psoas muscles. The iliacus begins at the inside back of the pelvis, while the psoas is attached to the lower vertebra, and they combine to attach to the inside of the femur on a small bony projection called the lesser trochanter. When the leg is flexed, or bent at the hip, and turned out, the iliopsoas lays across the hip joint. As the leg extends and moves toward the body, if the muscle is pulled tight, it will snap as it moves across the femoral head.
Dancers may find that hip snapping syndrome occurs during a growth spurt since bones grow faster than muscles and muscles are taut until they catch up.
As long as this snapping is not painful, it does not indicate a serious problem, but it can be a sign of a muscular imbalance. If the snapping occurs all of the time, there is a good chance that the bursa sacs surrounding the hip joint can become irritated. The job of a bursa sac is to provide a cushion between soft tissue like muscles and tendons and bones to reduce friction. As the tight tendons and muscles rub closely against the bones the bursae may become inflamed and painful, resulting in bursitis.
Keeping the muscles of the hip joint healthy by embarking upon a supplemental conditioning program that strengthens and stretches all of the hip muscles equally will help eliminate any imbalances and contribute to healthy dancing.