Knee pain can be debilitating because we use our knee joints every day. The same goes for hip pain. But having knee and hip pain together is even worse and can happen for a variety of reasons.
If you’re having both these types of pain at the same time, it can make it difficult to walk or do everyday activities that involve the joints.
But there are also many different reasons that hip and knee pain can occur together. To treat them effectively, it’s necessary to understand the root cause.
Let’s look at some of the common causes and their treatments.
Why Do My Knees and Hips Hurt?
Your knees and hips are the largest weight-bearing joints in your body. They work together to allow you a wide range of motion.
These two joints are under considerable stress just from going about your daily activities. Things like walking, bending, sitting, and standing over time add stress.
Research has shown that every pound of weight you have on your body puts 4 pounds of stress on your knees and hips!
In most cases, when you experience pain in your knees and hips it’s often caused by an overuse injury with several contributing factors. These may include:
- Wear and tear
- Underlying medical conditions
- A sudden increase in activity levels
- Genetic predisposition
That being said, you may experience pain in the knee or hip from the repetitive movement of less strenuous activity like gardening.
Types of Damage or Injuries That Could Cause Hip and Leg Pain
In some cases, knee and hip pain can be mild and annoying. However, in other cases, the pain can be severe and interfere with your daily activities.
Not all hip and knee pain presents the same way. It may be constant, or it can come and go. Sometimes, it develops very suddenly, or it can start gradually and worsen over time.
The pain may affect the entire leg or be localized to a hip or knee joint. It can also be different types of pain, such as stabbing, aching, or dull, throbbing pain.
These factors indicate what the underlying cause of hip and knee pain is. The exact location of the pain also often shows the origin area of the problem.
The knee, thigh muscles, hip joint, glutes, and surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons are connected.
The movement of one of them affects the others. For this reason, hip and knee pain can sometimes be what’s known as referred pain.
For example, if the pain is on the inside of the hip or groin, it’s often a sign that the problem is with the hip joint itself.
Pain on the outside of the hip, in the upper thigh, or outside the buttock usually means that the problem lies with the muscles or other soft tissues nearby.
Types of damage or injury that could be causing hip and leg pain include:
Most hip or knee fractures are caused by a fall, an accident, or injury from running or tennis, or some other exercise.
You may be at a higher risk of developing a bone fracture if your bones are weaker due to conditions like osteoporosis or if you’ve had a bone infection—osteomyelitis.
But as you age, your bones tend to become weak and brittle, which increases your risk of a fracture.
Stress fractures are sometimes caused by repetitive microtrauma, leading to bone swelling and eventually fracturing.
We often see this kind of fracture in distance runners where overuse, repetitive motion, and hard impact put stress on the bone. This can lead to small fractures occurring in the hip.
While it’s more typical to dislocate a finger or your shoulder, it is possible to dislocate your hip, knee, or ankle.
A dislocated kneecap is a common injury when you change direction suddenly, fall, or experience a blow to the knee.
You could dislocate your hip if you sustained a fall from a height or were in an accident where the ball of your hip is pushed out its socket.
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage outside of the brain and spinal cord. It’s often the result of a traumatic injury, exposure to toxins, infection, or metabolic problems.
It can also be caused by medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.
But nerve damage can also be caused by prolonged pressure on the nerve—radiculopathy—or neurological disorders like lateral femoral cutaneous nerve entrapment—Meralgia paresthetica.
Muscle Injury or Inflammation
You can also experience knee and hip pain if you’ve sprained or torn a muscle in your lower back, pelvis, or thighs.
But you could also develop painful conditions like tendonitis or bursitis if you participate in activities that overwork or irritate the hip and knee joint.
Tendonitis will occur when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the hips and knees become irritated and inflamed.
Bursitis of the knee or hip also occurs when you overwork or irritate the hip or knee joint, leading to inflammation or irritation of the bursa—the fluid-filled sac that cushions joints.
Arthritis is a common cause of knee and hip pain when the cartilage cushions the joints breaks down, causing the bones to rub against each other.
This leads to inflammation, stiffness, swelling, or general discomfort around the joint. It can cause pain to radiate into your legs.
The most common type of arthritis in the knee and hip joint is osteoarthritis.
While rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the joints in the hands, in some cases it can also affect larger joints such as the hips and knees.
Common Hip and Leg Pain and Its Causes
Sharp, Shooting Pain in the Buttocks and Lower Back
This kind of pain is often associated with sciatica, a common condition. It usually occurs on only one side of the body at a time.
Pain occurs in the sciatic nerve, which runs down both legs from the hip and ends just above the knee in the back of the leg.
This can be caused by a bone spur or herniated disc pressing against the nerve. It can also be caused when the nerve becomes pinched or inflamed due to the way you were sitting.
While your doctor may prescribe medication to deal with sciatica pain, home treatments are usually best. These include gentle stretches and heat or cold therapy to ease the pain.
Sciatica pain usually goes away on its own. However, after a few weeks of home treatment, your doctor may recommend alternative therapies or cortisone injections if it hasn’t gone away.
Burning or Tingling Sensation in the Legs
Burning, tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation in your legs and hip can be indicators of peripheral neuropathy—nerve damage.
It occurs more often in the lower legs and feet, but it can happen higher up the legs.
Rather than being a pain caused by an external stimulus, neuropathy pain occurs because the damaged nerves misfire and send pain or strange sensation signals to the brain.
There is no way to cure neuropathy. You can take certain measures to ease the pain at home, like heat or cold treatment, massage, or TENS stimulation.
Pain Focused on One Side
Pain focused on only one side could be sciatica, or it could indicate a problem with the hip joint, called the sacroiliac joint.
This joint connects the hip bone to the sacrum, supporting the spine. This is NOT the ball-and-socket hip joint—the sacroiliac joint is deeper inside the pelvis.
You should make an appointment with your doctor to try and find the root cause of the pain. Only then will you be able to decide on an appropriate course of treatment.
You can try heat or cold therapy, a support brace, or chiropractic therapy to ease the pain.
Pain On the Inside of the Hip or Groin
If there’s pain on the inside of the hip or the groin, it could be an issue with the hip joint.
It can be challenging to find an underlying cause, so it’s best to visit your doctor who will take X-rays and perform other medical tests.
You can treat it at home by massage, stretching, or going to a physical therapist.
Pain on the Outside of the Hip, Upper Thigh, or Outer Buttock
Joints and nerves are not the only things in the hip area. If you have pain in the upper thigh or on the outside of the hip or buttock, it could indicate that muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the area are strained.
As the muscles or tendons extend and contract, you will most likely feel the pain when you walk or do an activity.
You can treat this using the RICE principle, heat therapy, massage, or acupuncture.
You should rest from activity until the pain has been gone for a few days.
Shooting Pains That Radiate Into Your Legs
Shooting pains in the hip area that radiate into the legs may be a sign of a hernia or a lower back strain. Make sure it’s not in the area of the sciatic nerve first.
You should consult your doctor if you believe you have a hernia. You can also do home treatments such as heat therapy for pain relief, stretches to maintain your range of motion, and go to a chiropractor or physical therapist.
If you have pain in your hip, leg, or knee and aren’t sure what causes it, it would be wise to visit your doctor to find out the underlying reason.
However, if it’s not advanced enough for surgical intervention, here are some general at-home treatments you can try to reduce pain and maintain mobility.
You should avoid doing an activity that aggravates your pain. It can be difficult to avoid walking, bending, sitting, and standing, and unfortunately, all of these actions can cause the pain to feel worse.
However, you should rest from walking long distances, playing sports, or doing high-impact activities that pressure the hip and knee.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Some people may find that heat or cold makes their pain feel worse. In most cases, one will help and the other will worsen the pain.
If you find that one works for you, you can apply it to the affected area 3 or 4 times a day, for 20 minutes.
Exercise not only stimulates endorphins, which have natural pain-relief parties, but it can also help to reduce weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on the hips, knees, and ankles.
However, you should choose low-impact exercises like cycling, rowing, swimming, yoga, or the stair stepper. Choose good shoes for hip pain and knee pain.
If heat and cold therapy don’t help your pain, you can get over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and analgesics—Tylenol or Motrin—to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Physical therapy or chiropractic work can help in some cases. Alternatively, massage and acupuncture can help to ease up muscles that may cause pain when they tighten.
In many cases, TENS therapy can help to ease pain. Other kinds of treatment that may be recommended include osteopathic therapy—similar to chiropractic—and plasma exchange or IV immune globulin therapies, in the case of neuropathy.
OTC products should be considered if more conservative treatment options don’t seem to be working.
For example, an orthotic insole can help realign the ankle joint, which will take strain off the knee joint and reduce pressure in the hip joint.
This simple change could alleviate the majority of your hip and leg pain.
Alternatively, a knee brace could be used to keep the joints in alignment.
A doctor will only recommend surgery if the pain is debilitating and affects your everyday life, and if every other treatment possibility has failed.
It depends on the exact underlying cause as to what form of surgery will be done.