Top Ways to Distinguish Between Hip and Back Pain Back Health, Hip Health
Top Ways to Distinguish Between Hip and Back Pain

Back pain can often times be mistaken for hip pain since the hip joint is so close to the spine. Generally, hip and back pain can range from a dull ache to sharp pain. This can affect your mobility and everyday activities. 

The following guide will help you identify symptoms that distinguish hip pain from back pain and the resources available at Iowa Ortho.

Pain Originating in the Hip

“Although the hip joint can withstand repeated motion and a fair amount of wear and tear, once it’s normal function is interrupted by inflammation or other factors you can see a significant decline in your daily activities as a result.” – Mark Matthes, M.D.

Hip problems usually produce groin pain on the affected side due to the joint of the hip being close to the spine. The most common cause of hip pain is osteoarthritis. Some other common symptoms of pain originating from the hip are:

  • Discomfort comes and goes, becoming more frequent over time.
  • Pain worsens with standing, walking and activity.
  • Walking with a limp.

Many associate hip pain with something more prominent as we age. But hip pain can affect individuals of all ages. It is always important to listen to your body and seek treatment if your pain increases.

Pain originating in the Back

“The majority of adults will have back pain at some point in their lifetime. If it does not respond to simple conservative treatments, further evaluation may be necessary.”– Brett Rosenthal, M.D.

Back pain can occur from a recent strain or mild injury which can generally last for a few days. It’s important to note that if your pain is severe, ongoing, or accompanied by other symptoms it may be time to see a doctor. Common symptoms that pain is originating from your back are:

  • Pain is limited to your back or buttocks.
  • Pain is shooting down your leg.
  • Pain worsens with sitting or bending.
  • Pain improves when standing or walking.

Generally, back pain that lasts more than two weeks is a sign that you need to seek medical attention. If pain is severe or keeps you from participating in daily activities, seek medical care to prevent further issues.


“Due to your nervous system being so intricate, pain can radiate from multiple sources. So your pain can feel like it is affecting one spot but originates from a different part of your body.” – Darin Larson, M.D.

A diagnosis from your provider will allow them to pinpoint the origin of your pain. The three most common methods your provider will use for diagnosis are:

  • Physical Exam – This allows the provider to see your movements. The goal is to see what recreates the pain.
  • X-Ray/CT Scan – Providers can look at specific bone/cartilage changes. It will also reveal any degeneration of the discs or small joints in the spine.
  • Ultrasound Scan/MRI – Views soft tissues and nerves to see if there are nerve impingements that are not visible in an x-ray.  

Non-surgical Treatment Options

“Surgery can seem overwhelming so we always strive to exhaust all non-surgical treatment options first. This allows patients time to think about their options and if surgery is the route they would like to take.” – Kurt Smith, D.O.

Treatment options can seem overwhelming since there are so many options and routes. Our providers will work with you to outline all possible treatment options and explain them in full to you. We strive to use non-surgical treatment options first before recommending surgery.

The three most common treatment options that your provider will recommend are:

  • Medications
    • Anti-inflammatories: Ibuprofen
    • Topicals: Diclofenac gel, Lidocaine cream
    • Acetaminophen
  • Therapy
    • Stretching and strengthening
  • Alternative
    • Heat: Relaxes tissues
    • Ice: Reduces inflammation
    • Injections

Surgical Treatment Options

“Hip surgery, either replacement or arthroscopic, have a very quick and complete recovery in most instances. Hip replacement patients often report “forgetting about their hip replacement” within 3 to 6 months of their surgery. It is a great intervention in an appropriate patient.” – Craig Mahoney, M.D.

With all surgical options, our specialists strive to utilize minimally invasive techniques. For both hip and spine surgical options, minimally invasive procedures allow for a faster recovery and less time needed for the surgery.


  • Hip Arthroscopy – The surgeon will use a device to see inside the hip joint. From there, your surgeon can clean loose or damaged tissues from the joint.
  • Hip Replacement – During this procedure, your surgeon replaces the end of the damaged hip joint with an artificial part.


  • Laminectomy/Decompression – When spinal stenosis causes the spinal canal to narrow, common symptoms you’ll experience are pain, numbness, or weakness. During this procedure, bone spurs are removed to relieve pressure on the nerves.
  • Microdiscectomy – Considered one of the most common spine procedures. This operation removes a portion of the intervertebral disc, the herniated or protruding portion that compresses the traversing spinal nerve root.
  • Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty – Focuses on repairing compression fractures of the vertebrae caused by osteoporosis. Both procedures inject a glue-like bone cement that hardens and strengthens the bone.
  • Cervical Disc Replacement – Releases pressure from the spinal cord and nerves. A difference between a cervical disc replacement and a spinal fusion is that an artificial disc replaces the damaged cervical disc to preserve motion.
  • Spinal Fusion – The surgeon removes the spinal disk between two or more vertebrae, then fuses the adjacent vertebrae using bone grafts or metal devices secured by screws.

Providing you with options is one of our top priorities at Iowa Ortho. You can discuss further options or get an evaluation of your hip or back pain by contacting us at 515-247-8400 or requesting an appointment online.