Twelve years ago, I tore my labrum, the cartilage that lines the socket in my right hip. In recent years, a torn labrum has become a common injury in athletes and occasionally, in people who desperately run across campus for a grilled cheese sandwich on a cold winter day. But at the time, it was still a relatively new diagnosis.
Four years later, after graduating and becoming a full-fledged adult, the pain in my hip was preventing me from working out and waking me in my sleep on a regular basis. Whenever the torn piece of cartilage got caught under my femoral head, the symptoms would flare up.
I saw quite a few doctors with many different opinions and when the one suggested I had “chronic hip popping syndrome,” I almost gave up all together. But finally, I happened upon a smart doctor who ordered an arthroscopic MRI which uses contrast dye to determine if the labrum has been torn. It was and I opted for surgery. A year later, fully recovered, I wandered into a CrossFit gym and the rest is, as they say, history.
That is, until I started feeling pain in my other hip.
This time, the pain felt different but just to be certain, the doctor ordered an arthroscopic MRI. The results came back. I had not one, but two labral tears and a bone spur in my left hip. It seemed that once again, I was headed for an intense surgery and a long road of recovery.
But surgery is not always the answer and in this case, it definitely wasn’t. I did have a torn labrum, but it wasn’t what was causing me pain. According to Dr. Frank Benedetto, physical therapist and owner of Benedetto Sports Orthopedics in Elmwood Park, NJ, “Doctors often treat diagnostic results instead of symptoms. Plenty of people walk around with tears in their tendons or ligaments, but have no idea because they are asymptomatic so it’s not necessary to treat them. It’s completely possible to have an MRI result that has nothing to do with the pain the patient is experiencing. It’s important to treat the movement patterns and mechanical joint dysfunction that cause the symptoms.”
It took some convincing, but I cancelled my appointment with the surgeon who had preformed my last surgery and decided to see if physical therapy would rid me of my discomfort. At this point, doing an air squat caused great agony and as an Olympic lifter, that was disheartening. But Dr. Benedetto was persuasive and I opted to give physical therapy a chance.
In my case, an impingement around my hip area was the true source of pain. My sacroiliac joint was out of place, my iliopsoas was angry, and my gluteal muscles were weak. Even with chiropractic adjustments, the tightness in front of my hip kept pulling the joint out of place and my gluteus and hamstring muscles were unable to help stabilize the joint. Imbalances in my body were the true culprit.
I spent about three months in physical therapy before I could return to regular training but had I done surgery that may have been closer to a year. The moral of the story is to explore all options before committing to going under the knife because there is no guarantee that surgery will improve the injury.
For more information about how to relieve hip impingements, check out our article about the different strengthening exercises and stretches to add into your workout routine.
Photo Cred: Viviana Pudhaiski of Everyday Lifters. Follow her on instagram @everday_lifters