Femoroacetabular Impingement: Morphology Does Not Equal Pathology

Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome (FAIS) was described as early as 19361 and has been drastically increasing in popularity over the past two decades2. As this condition has become more respected amongst the medical community, the number of patients identified with FAIS was significantly increased3. With this increased recognition, there has also been a markedly rising number of hip arthroscopy surgeries being performed. Literature has demonstrated an 18-fold increase from 1999 to 20094 and a 25-fold increase between 2006 and 20135. With regards to indication for surgery, Peters and colleagues performed a scoping review to identify what factors surgeons use to make this decision6. This study found the below criteria used by surgeons for surgical intervention in the literature…

Criteria Studies reporting criteria
Alpha angle > 60°, CE angle > 40°, or presence of acetabular retroversion 72 (67%)
No clinical evidence of inflammatory arthritis changes 69 (64%)
Diagnostric injection or MRI indicating presence of intra-articular pathology or labral damage 66 (61%)
Acetabular retroversion (Crossover sign) 62 (57%)
Failed non-surgical treatment 47 (44%)
Anterior Impingement Test 39 (36%)
Positive FADDIR or Anterior Impingement Test 38 (35%)
Hip pain > 3 months 26 (24%)
Failed formal Physical Therapy-led program 19 (18%)
Lateral centre edge angle > 20° 18 (17%)
Flexion and IR decreased 12 (11%)
CE angle > 40° 8 (7%)
IR decreased 7 (6%)
Hip IR < 20° in 90° hip flexion 6 (6%)
Alpha angle > 60° 2 (2%)

As you can see from the data obtained from their study, the vast majority of the information used to determine surgery in this patient population is related to radiological findings and extent of morphological changes. Most surprisingly, failure of conservative management and especially failure of formal physical therapy was not included in the vast majority of published studies.

With this information, it appears we may be getting ahead of ourselves…

What is FAIS?

The femoroacetabular joint refers to the articulation between the proximal femur and the acetabulum of the pelvis. In FAIS, altered boney morphology of the femoral neck (Cam Morphology) or of the Acetabular rim (Pincer Morphology) leads to premature contact of the two osseous structures. Based on the orientation of the joint, this premature contact typically occurs during hip flexion and/or internal rotation7,8. This abnormal contact has also been blamed for additional pathological conditions such as acetabular labral tears, chondral lesions, and osteoarthritis.

Altered Morphology Does Not ALWAYS Matter

As with most morphological abnormalities, these factors do not always lead to pain and are fairly common in the general and athletic populations. A systematic review conducted by Frank and colleagues9 of 2,114 asymptomatic hips found a very high prevalence of altered morphology. They found that 67% of subjects had radiologically confirmed pincer morphology, whereas 37-55% of athletes and 23% of the general population demonstrated cam morphology. To further evaluate the association of morphology in symptomatic patients, athletes, and asymptomatic individuals, Mascarenhas and colleagues performed a systematic review of 60 studies10. This study found that cam morphology was significantly more common in athletes versus asymptomatic subjects but not compared to symptomatic patients, significantly more common in symptomatic versus asymptomatic cases. Whereas, no significant differences were found between pincer morphology prevalence when comparing athletes to symptomatic patients. However, mixed-type FAI was significantly more common in athletes versus asymptomatic subjects and in asymptomatic versus symptomatic subjects.

Additionally, when looking at those pathologies that are said to be caused by altered morphology, the prevalence is also very high among asymptomatic individuals. The presence of acetabular labral tears and chondral lesions were found in asymptomatic individuals with a prevalence of 44-69% and 20-24%, respectively11,12.

In fact, the level of morphological abnormality often does not coincide with severity of symptoms. A study of 616 adults with hip pain found no association between radiographic signs of FAIS or a positive Flexion Adduction Internal Rotation (FADDIR) test with degree of hip pain13. More recently, Jacobs and colleagues investigated the relationship of preoperative symptom severity and magnitude of boney morphology14. This study of 64 patients prior to arthroscopic hip surgery found no correlation between symptom severity and degree of acetabular labral tear or femoroacetabular boney morphology. There was however a significant influence of depressive symptoms (as determined by the Mental Component Score) and severity of hip-related symptoms, which gives further credence to the link between psychosocial factors and symptom severity irregardless of morphological or pathological changes.

When Does Altered Morphology Matter?

Previous diagnostic criteria for femoroacetabular impingement relied heavily upon the level of morphological changes. Ganz et al. and Sankar et al. determined that the diagnosis of FAIS was appropriate if (1) there was abnormal morphology of the femur and/or acetabulum, (2) if there was abnormal contact between these two structures, (3) if the patient participated in activities that resulted in supraphysiologic motion that results in such abnormal contact and collision, (4) repetitive motion resulting in the continuous insult, (5) presence of soft-tissue damage15,16. Once again, these criteria are not sufficient to accurately diagnose a patient with FAIS because there is no weight put on clinical signs or symptoms.

More recently, Griffin and colleagues attempted to better define appropriate terminology, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for FAIS17. At this consensus meeting, they agreed that accurate diagnosis depended upon clinical signs, symptoms, and diagnostic criteria. They therefore defined FAIS as:

“Femoroacetabular impingement syndrome is a motion-related clinical disorder of the hip with a triad of symptoms, clinical signs and imaging findings. It represents symptomatic premature contact between the proximal femur and the acetabulum.”

— 2016 Warwick Agreement on Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome (Griffin et al., 2016)

The key differentiating factors between this and previous descriptions are the additional criteria of ‘symptomatic’ and the emphasis on symptoms and clinical signs in addition to diagnostic criteria. This definition was met with a 9.8/10 agreement and allows for the entire patient presentation to be taken into consideration, not just the underlying morphological changes. To expand upon this agreement, Reiman and colleagues performed an international and multi-disciplinary Delphi survey to identify pertinent aspects of the subjective history, clinical examination, and radiological examination18. This survey found agreement on the following aspects in patients presenting with FAIS…

Subjective Examination
Descriptor Consensus Support
Deep anterior groin pain, especially worse with activities such as prolonged sitting, squatting, car transfers, and dressing 98.4%
Pain with hip flexion or rotational activities 96.7%
Pinching or aching in the hip/groin associated with activitity 96.7%
Deep groin pain with twisting or turning or pivoting 95.1%
Intermittent sharp deep groin pain 95.1%

Subjective self report should be the cornerstone of the examination of any injury and FAIS is no exception. Patients often present with reports of deep anterior groin pain that is exacerbated with activities involving deep flexion, rotational activities, and squatting. The subjective attributes agreed upon for individuals presenting with FAIS closely coincides with a diagnostic study performed by Clohisy and colleagues19 who looked at 51 patients with confirmed, symptomatic FAIS. This study showed that 88% of patients had pain localized to the groin region and aggravating factors included general activity-related (71%), running (69%), sitting (65%), and pivoting (63%).

Physical Examination
Descriptor Consensus Support
Limited IR with hip flexion with pain 96.7%
Limited IR with pain 91.8%
Limited and painful hip flexion 83.6%
Special Testing
Descriptor Consensus Support
Positive FADDIR/Anterior Impingement Test 91.8%
No special tests are diagnostic of FAIS; Only valuable as screening tool 82.0%

A systematic review of 16 studies related to physical impairments in individuals with FAIS demonstrates similar findings as the Delphi survey. This study agreed that the available literature currently demonstrates that individuals with FAIS have decreased hip ROM into impingement (flexion/internal rotation in 90° flexion), which is often limited by pain20.

When looking at the included criteria for special testing in FAIS, the two agreed upon findings seem contradictory. On one end, a positive FADDIR test is beneficial, however on the other end, it is also noted that no special tests are diagnostic for FAIS. According to the literature in reference to special testing for FAIS, there has been no test that can be seen as confirmatory of the diagnosis due to very low positive likelihood ratios and specificity values21-23. That being said, the use of the FADDIR test does offer benefit due to the very high sensitivity and low negative likelihood ratios reported in the literature (Sn= 0.94-0.99, -LR= 0.14-0.45)22, however its capacity as a screening method has recently come into question24. A cross-sectional study of 74 ice hockey players (average age of 16 years old) contradicted the current literature with regards to the FADDIR test’s screening capacity. This unique study questions its capacity to screen for pure cam, pincer, or combined morphology (Sn= 0.41, -LR= 1.24) and pure cam or combined morphology (Sn= 0.60, -LR= 0.78). As we continue to evaluate the capacity to screen for FAIS, there will be more consensus, but as of now the FADDIR can be used as a screening tool with caution and with taking into consideration the patient’s additional clinical signs and subjective complaints.

Understanding that FAIS is far more than morphological changes to the proximal femur or acetabulum will allow us as clinicians and researchers to move forward in the evaluation, treatment, and return to sport of this patient population. By evaluating the ability of conservative management to return athletes to their prior level of function, this drastic spike in surgical procedures may start to stabilize. Boney morphology is a well-known contributor to FAIS, but it only tells one portion of the story, we need to dig deeper in order to successfully manage this patient population.


1. Smith-Petersen M. Treatment of malum coxae senilis, old slipped upper femoral epiphysis, intrapelvic protrusion of the acetabulum, and coxa plana by means of acetabuloplasty. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1936; 18: 869–80.
2. Khan M, Oduwole KO, Razdan P, et al. Sources and quality of literature addressing femoroacetabular impingement: a scoping review 2011-2015. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2016. doi:10.1007/s12178-016-9364-5.
3. Montgomery SR, Ngo SS, Hobson T, et al. Trends and demographics in hip arthroscopy in the United States. Arthroscopy. 2013; 29: 661–5.
4. Colvin AC, Harrast J, Harner C. Trends in hip arthroscopy. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2012; 94: e23. dos:10.2106/JBJS.J.01886
5. Cvetanovich GL, Chalmers PN, Levy DM, et al. Hip arthroscopy surgical volume trends and 30-day postoperative complications. Arthroscopy. 2016; 32: 1286–92.
6. Peters S, Laing A, Emerson C, et al. Surgical criteria for femoroacetabular impingement syndrome: a scoping review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2017. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096936.
7. Fernquest S, Arnold C, Palmer A, et al. Osseous impingement occurs early in flexion in cam-type femoroacetabular impingement: a 4D CT model. The Bone & Joint Journal. 2017;99-B(4 Supple B):41-48. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.99B4.BJJ-2016-1274.R1.
8. Kobayashi N, Inaba Y, Kubota S, et al. The Distribution of Impingement Region in Cam-Type Femoroacetabular Impingement and Borderline Dysplasia of the Hip With or Without Cam Deformity: A Computer Simulation Study. Arthroscopy. November 2016. doi:10.1016/j.arthro.2016.08.018.
9. Frank JM, et al. Prevalence of Femoroacetabular Impingement Imaging Findings in Asymptomatic Volunteers: A Systematic Review. Arthroscopy. 2015 Jun;31(6):1199-204. doi: 10.1016/j.arthro.2014.11.042.
10. Mascarenhas VV, Rego P, Dantas P, et al. Imaging prevalence of femoroacetabular impingement in symptomatic patients, athletes, and asymptomatic individuals: A systematic review. European Journal of Radiology. 2016;85(1):73-95. doi:10.1016/j.ejrad.2015.10.016.
11. Register B, et al. Prevalence of abnormal hip findings in asymptomatic participants: a prospective, blinded study. Am J Sports Med. 2012 Dec;40(12):2720-4. doi: 10.1177/0363546512462124.
12. Tresch F, Dietrich TJ, Pfirrmann CWA, Sutter R. Hip MRI: Prevalence of articular cartilage defects and labral tears in asymptomatic volunteers. A comparison with a matched population of patients with femoroacetabular impingement. J Magn Reson Imaging. December 2016:1-12. doi:10.1002/jmri.25565.
13. Yamauchi R, Inoue R, Chiba D, et al. Association of clinical and radiographic signs of femoroacetabular impingement in the general population. J Orthop Sci. November 2016. doi:10.1016/j.jos.2016.09.014.
14. Jacobs CA, Burnham JM, Jochimsen KN, Molina D, Hamilton DA, Duncan ST. Preoperative Symptoms in Femoroacetabular Impingement Patients Are More Related to Mental Health Scores Than the Severity of Labral Tear or Magnitude of Bony Deformity. The Journal of Arthroplasty. July 2017. doi:10.1016/j.arth.2017.06.053.
15. Ganz R, Parvizi J, Beck M, et al. Femoroacetabular impingement: a cause for osteoarthritis of the hip. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2003; 417: 112–20.
16. Sankar WN, Nevitt M, Parvizi J, et al. Femoroacetabular impingement: defining the condition and its role in the pathophysiology of osteoarthritis. J Am Acad Ortho Surg. 2013; 21(Suppl 1) :S7–S15.
17. Griffin DR, Dickenson EJ, O’Donnell J, et al. The Warwick Agreement on femoroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAI syndrome): an international consensus statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016; 50(19): 1169-1176. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096743.
18. Reiman MP, Thorborg K, Covington K, Cook CE, Holmich P. Important clinical descriptors to include in the examination and assessment of patients with femoroacetabular impingement syndrome: an international and multi-disciplinary Delphi survey. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2017;22(4):806. doi:10.1007/s00167-017-4484-z.
19. Clohisy JC, Knaus ER, Hunt DM, Lesher JM, Harris-Hayes M, Prather H. Clinical Presentation of Patients with Symptomatic Anterior Hip Impingement. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 2009;467(3):638-644. doi:10.1007/s11999-008-0680-y.
20. Diamond LE, Dobson FL, Bennell KL, Wrigley TV, Hodges PW, Hinman RS. Physical impairments and activity limitations in people with femoroacetabular impingement: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(4):230-242. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-093340.
21. Pacheco-Carrillo A, Medina-Porqueres I. Physical examination tests for the diagnosis of femoroacetabular impingement. A systematic review. Phys Ther Sport. 2016;21:87-93. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2016.01.002.
22. Reiman MP, Goode AP, Cook CE, Holmich P, Thorborg K. Diagnostic accuracy of clinical tests for the diagnosis of hip femoroacetabular impingement/labral tear: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(12):811-811. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094302.
23. Reiman MP, Goode AP, Hegedus EJ, Cook CE, Wright AA. Diagnostic accuracy of clinical tests of the hip: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;47(14):893-902. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091035.
24. Casartelli NC, Brunner R, Maffiuletti NA, et al. The FADIR test accuracy for screening cam and pincer morphology in youth ice hockey players. J Sci Med Sport. June 2017. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2017.06.011.

The Athlete’s Hip: Simplifying Evaluation, Treatment, and Return to Sport

The Athlete’s Hip can be a complicated issue for sports medicine professionals and athletes alike… Do you want to learn how to accurately and efficiently evaluate and treat this population?

Currently scheduling for 2018/19, see below for information regarding the course and learn if you want to host a course!


Hip pathology is an often under-appreciated and misunderstood problem for clinicians and athletes alike. As intra-articular and extra-articular hip pain has become more prominent, surgical procedures have increased exponentially, but examination and conservative management have unfortunately lagged behind.

This two-day course will delve into evidence-based evaluation, conservative management, and return to sport of athletes presenting with hip pain. Through lecture and lab sessions, you will learn how to evaluate and treat athletes presenting with intra-articular (femoroacetabular impingement syndrome, acetabular labral pathology, and ligamentum teres pathology) and extra-articular pathology (sacroiliac joint, extra-articular impingement, athletic pubalgia, piriformis syndrome, proximal hamstring pathology, and greater trochanteric pain syndrome).

By simplifying the evaluation and management of these conditions, at the conclusion of this course, clinician will be more confident in determining underlying pathology, appropriate management, need for surgical consult, and safe return to sport.


John Snyder, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS


Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Understand the complexity of pain and its impact on hip pathology
  • Understand the impact of femoroacetabular biomechanics on hip and concomitant LE pathology and injury risk
  • Be able to accurately assess for red flags (avascular necrosis, femoral stress fracture, and inguinal hernia) and referral from proximal regions
  • Be able to accurately and efficiently evaluate extra-articular and intra-articular hip pathology
  • Be able to screen for and determine the need for surgical intervention
  • Understand pathology dependent and region dependent manual therapy and exercise progression for hip pathology
  • Progression of LE exercise and end-stage rehabilitation principles
  • Be able to determine psychosocial, functional testing, and pathology specific factors to determine safe and efficient return to sport


Day 1

09:00 – 09:30 Introduction & Pain Science
09:30 – 10:15 Impact of hip pathology and biomechanics on movement
10:15 – 11:00 Screening of Pelvic/Hip Region (Lab/Lecture)
11:00 – 11:15 Break
11:15 – 12:15 Examination of Intra-articular Pathology (Lecture)
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch
13:30 – 14:30 Examination of Intra-articular Pathology (Lab)
14:30 – 15:15 Examination of Extra-articular Pathology (Lecture)
15:15 – 15:30 Break
15:30 – 16:00 Examination of Extra-articular Pathology (Lab)
16:00 – 17:00 Where does surgery fit in?

Day 2

09:00 – 10:00 Epidemiology of Conservative and Surgical Interventions
10:00 – 10:45 Treatment of Intra-articular hip pathology (Lab/Lecture)
10:45 – 11:00 Break
11:00 – 12:00 Treatment of Extra-articular hip pathology (Lab/Lecture)
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:00 End-stage Rehabilitation Considerations
14:00 – 15:30 Return to Sport Determination (Lecture/Lab)
15:30 – 15:45 Final Comments/Conclusion

Scheduled Dates

I am currently scheduling for 2018-2019. Please contact me if you are interested in hosting The Athlete’s Hip or Management of the Ice Hockey Athlete at your facility.

Hip Pain: Return to Sport Considerations

Pre-arthritic hip pain is a common occurrence among athletes, especially those competing in ice hockey1 and field-based team sports (soccer, rugby, and football).2 While this area receives less attention than knee or shoulder injuries, current research is beginning to improve diagnosis and treatment of both intra-articular and extra-articular hip pathology. But, what about return to sport?

What the Literature Says

Determining an athlete’s readiness to return to sport is complicated. The decision with regards to hip pathology is even more convoluted due to the lack of evidence. Most literature discusses outcomes following arthroscopic surgery, and only a few studies outline the proposed benefit of conservative management.3

The available literature suggests that surgery for femoroacetabular impingement is beneficial in a symptomatic population, with 87% of patients returning to sport and 82% returning to previous level of competition.4 On the other hand, no randomized controlled studies adequately compare conservative and surgical management.5 Unfortunately, at this point the research tends to relate only to reported patient satisfaction, subjective questionnaires, and self-reported return to sport.6

How Do We Determine Return to Sport?

Unlike ACL reconstruction, hip injury lacks sufficient evidence to support return to sport guidelines. According to the 2016 Consensus Statement on Return to Sport, clinicians should combine information from a biological, psychological, and social standpoint.7 These factors include:

  • Health risk based on the athlete’s specific injury (subjective and objective measures)
  • Activity risk of returning to sport (type of sport, competition level, etc.)
  • Risk tolerance (pressure, fear of re-injury, etc.)

The StAART Framework (pictured below) proposed by Shrier and colleagues sums up this approach.8 It allows the clinician to comprehend and address all areas impacted by an individual’s readiness to return to sport.

MC020-205 Starrt Framework Chart_v03

Functional Testing Considerations

A recent systematic review conducted by Kivlan and colleagues demonstrated that several tests are reliable and valid when determining return to sport after hip injuries:9

  • Single-leg Stance
  • Deep Squat
  • Single-leg Squat
  • Star Excursion Balance Test (SEBT) / Y-Balance Test

These tests have appropriate validity and reliability but no solid cut-points, so findings should be interpreted on a patient-specific basis by considering their limb symmetry index during these tasks. Significant increase in medial–lateral sway and worse anterior–posterior control during a dynamic single-leg squat task in individuals with pre-arthric hip pain supports the use of a single-leg squat assessment.10

The modified star excursion balance test (also known as the Lower Quarter Y-Balance Test)  has been successful in identifying asymmetry and impaired proximal stability in many conditions. Recently, Johansson and colleagues performed the first study to determine the criterion and divergent validity of the SEBT in individuals with femoroacetabular impingement11. They determined that SEBT performance in the posterolateral and posteromedial directions had high to moderate criterion validity in relation to the HAGOS subscales for pain intensity and symptoms. Additionally, the posterolateral direction and ADL function showed high to moderate criterion validity. Finally and most importantly, the SEBT showed adequate divergent validity and could successfully differentiate between healthy individuals and individuals diagnosed with FAI.

Several recent studies have investigated if hop testing is appropriate in this population. Kivlan and colleagues evaluated the difference in hop testing (cross-over reach test, medial triple hop test, lateral triple hop test, and cross-over hop test) between the involved and uninvolved hip in dancers with hip pathology.12 All tests demonstrated excellent reliability (0.89 – 0.96); however, only the medial triple hop test showed significant difference between the two limbs with the non-involved limb achieving 17.8 cm more distance than the involved limb.

More recently, Kivlan and colleagues investigated the hop performance between dancers with clinically diagnosed femoroacetabular impingement and an asymptomatic control group. This study found a significant difference of approximately 50 cm when comparing the performance of the FAI group to the asymptomatic control group during both the medial triple hop test and the lateral triple hop test:13


Further supporting the use of hop and dynamic balance activities, findings from another recent study determined that following arthroscopic hip surgery and concomitant rehabilitation, patients demonstrated > 90% limb symmetry index in the performance of a single-leg squat test, single-leg vertical jump, single-leg hop for distance, and single-leg side hop.14 While this information shows that we can achieve a LSI that is often used in return to sport of athletes post-ACL reconstruction, functional testing should be used with caution when translating it to a population of athletes with hip pain.

Continue with Caution

In the absence of definitive return to sport criteria, the clinician must focus on the tissue health (the load the tissue can absorb before injury), individual tissue stresses imposed by the athlete’s chosen sport and competition level, and any pertinent psychosocial factors (fear of re-injury).

Return to sport testing should be considered with caution as little evidence is available for this patient population.


1. Lerebours F, Robertson W, Neri B, Schulz B, Youm T, Limpisvasti O. Prevalence of Cam-Type Morphology in Elite Ice Hockey Players. Am J Sports Med. 2016 Jan 28. pii: 0363546515624671. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Gerhardt MB, Romero AA, Silvers HJ, Harris DJ, Watanabe D, Mandelbaum BR. The Prevalence of Radiographic Hip Abnormalities in Elite Soccer Players. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012;40(3):584-588. doi:10.1177/0363546511432711.

3. Wall PD, Fernandez M, Griffin D, Foster N. Nonoperative Treatment for Femoroacetabular Impingement: A Systematic Review of the Literature. PMRJ. March 2013:1-9. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2013.02.005.

4. Casartelli NC, Leunig M, Maffiuletti NA, Bizzini M. Return to sport after hip surgery for femoroacetabular impingement: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(12):819-824. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094414.

5. Reiman MP, Thorborg K, Hölmich P. Femoroacetabular Impingement Surgery Is on the Rise—But What Is the Next Step? Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2016;46(6):406-408. doi:10.2519/jospt.2016.0605.

6. Sim Y, Horner NS, de SA D, Simunovic N, Karlsson J, Ayeni OR. Reporting of non-hip score outcomes following femoroacetabular impingement surgery: a systematic review. J Hip Preserv Surg. 2015;2(3):224-241. doi:10.1093/jhps/hnv048.

7. Ardern CL, Glasgow P, Schneiders A, et al. 2016 Consensus statement on return to sport from the First World Congress in Sports Physical Therapy, Bern. British Journal of Sports Medicine. May 2016. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096278.

8. Shrier I. Strategic Assessment of Risk and Risk Tolerance (StARRT) framework for return-to-play decision-making. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015; 49: 1311–15.

9. Kivlan BR, Martin RL. Functional Performance Testing of the Hip in Athletes: A Systematic Review for Reliability and Validity. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2012;7(4):402-412.

10. Freke MD, Kemp J, svege I, Risberg MA, Semciw A, Crossley KM. Physical impairments in symptomatic femoroacetabular impingement: a systematic review of the evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine. June 2016. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096152.

11. Johnansson AC, et al. The Star Excursion Balance Test: Criterion and divergent validity on patients with femoral acetabular impingement. Manual Therapy. 2016; 26(C): 104-109. doi:10.1016/j.math.2016.07.015.

12. Kivlan BR, Carcia CR, Clemente FR, Phelps AL, Martin RL. Reliability and validity of functional performance tests in dancers with hip dysfunction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2013 Aug;8(4):360-9.

13. Kivlan BR, et al. Comparison of Range of Motion, Strength, and Hop Test Performance of dancers with and without a Clinical Diagnosis of Femoroacetabular Impingement. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2016; 11(4): 527-535.

14. Tijssen M, van Cingel R, de Visser E, Sanden der MN-V. A clinical observational study on patient-reported outcomes, hip functional performance and return to sports activities in hip arthroscopy patients. Physical Therapy in Sport. 2016;20(C):45-55. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2015.12.004.

Conservative Management of Femoroacetabular Impingement

The following is an article written for the online, video-based physical therapy continuing education company MedBridge

FAI Prevalence

As mentioned in my previous post on differential diagnosis of femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), hip pain is an all too common occurrence among older adults and adolescents.1

    • Older adults. According to a survey and subsequent study of 2,221 German respondents (predominantly female and > 40 years old), 15.2% reported hip pain and 3.5% reported bilateral hip pain.2
    • Adolescents. Spahn et al found that 6.5% of German adolescents reported hip pain. Women were more likely to be affected, along with individuals that consumed alcoholic beverages.3

A multitude of different pathologies and medical conditions explain the hip pain, but the more common cause is FAI. Young, active individuals with hip pain generally have very high incidence of FAI (as high as 87%).4

Is Conservative Care Effective for FAI?

With such a high prevalence, especially in athletes, clinicians must understand the evidence for conservative management.

To determine the effectiveness of therapy and other conservative care, Wall and colleagues conducted a systematic review of the available literature.5 Unfortunately, only 5 studies met the inclusion criteria due to the significant predominance of surgical interventions versus conservative care.

Benefits of Exercise and Activity Modification

That said, two studies with high-quality evidence found that patients can benefit from physical therapy and activity modification. The physical therapy programs included exercise-based staged rehabilitation focusing on the core hip musculature, education, and advice to help reduce the frequency of impingement.

In the first study, only 4 of 37 patients ended up undergoing surgical intervention.6 The remaining 33 subjects significantly improved their mean Harris Hip Score from 72 to 91 points at the 24-month follow-up.

The second study found no significant differences in pain and function when comparing conservative care to conservative care plus surgical intervention.7 Both groups showed improvement at the one-year follow-up.

Separately from this systematic review, a case report also found promising results for prescribing an augmented home exercise program of standing lateral glides and supine inferior glides of the hip using a belt.8


Going back to the systematic review, the successful conservative FAI management programs included the following interventions.

  • An overwhelming emphasis was put on core and gluteal musculature training.
  • Most programs focused on pain-free stretching of the hip flexor muscle group.
  • PROM and stretching at end-ranges of hip flexion and internal rotation were avoided.

Interestingly, only one of the programs included joint mobilization or specific manual therapy interventions. Based on the evidence supporting manual therapy in other hip pathologies, and the general FAI pathomechanics, it would appear that joint mobilization techniques should significantly enhance FAI rehabilitation.9

However, more recently Wright and colleagues investigated the effectiveness of conservative management in the treatment of FAI with favorable results10. In this small pilot study, patients were randomly assigned to receive either manual therapy and supervised exercise or advise and a home exercise program. At the conclusion of the 6 week treatment period, there was not a significant difference between the two groups, however both groups showed significant improvements in pain.

Conservative management of FAI is horribly underrepresented in the literature, but the scarce evidence available does provide some optimism. With the lack of definitive evidence supporting specific interventions, therapists must rely on the remaining two pillars of evidence-based practice: experience and patient beliefs.

Differential Diagnosis: Femoroacetabular Impingement

Hip pain is an all too common occurrence amongst older adults and adolescents alike. According to a survey and subsequent study conducted based on a predominantly female German population by Thiem et al. Out of the 2,221 individuals (> 40 years old) who responded, 15.2% reported hip pain and 3.5% reported bilateral hip pain. Similarly, Spahn et al found that 6.5% of German adolescents reported experiencing hip pain. Additional risk factors indicated within this study included female gender and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. There are a multitude of different pathologies and medical conditions that can result in the pain experienced by these individuals and one of the more common causes is femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). Young, active individuals who are experiencing hip pain generally have very high incidence of FAI with Ochoa et al finding FAI in 87% of symptomatic patients. With such a high proportion of younger individuals experiencing this pain, there are some risk factors or patient characteristics that coincide with this pathology identified by current clinical research.

Clohisy et al conducted a cross-sectional study to determine specific characteristics of patients diagnosed with symptomatic FAI. After analyzing the patient presentation of 1,076 patients and 1,130 hips, they found that those included within this cohort were predominantly young, white patients with a normal BMI, and there were more female than male patients. Additionally, the majority of patients experienced symptoms for between 12 and 36 months, while less than 100 patients experienced symptoms for less than 6 months.
In terms of anatomical classification, cam impingement was the most prevalent (48%), followed by combined cam/pincer (45%), while isolated pincer impingement only occurred in 8% of cases. While these factors allow the clinician the ability to visualize the typical patient, the activities and/or sports that the patient takes part in can also factor into the equation. For example, impingement typically occurs biomechanically with the combination of hip flexion and internal rotation. There are several sports and positions within these sports that are predisposed to FAI based on the biomechanical demands placed upon them. For example, within the sport of ice hockey, goaltenders have been shown to demonstrate increased prevalence of FAI compared to other position players (Epstein et al).

Further solidifying your diagnosis of FAI, there are some physical examination procedures that are superior to others in differentiating FAI from other pathologies of the hip. Reiman et al conducted a systematic review with meta-analysis to determine just how beneficial individual special test of the hip are for identifying pathologies of the hip. While the special tests evaluated did not have the capacity of predicting the presence of FAI versus acetabular labral tear versus arthritic/cartilaginous changes, these tests still allow the clinician to differentiate intra-articular versus extra-articular pathologies. Additionally, labral tears and chondral defects are commonly found in conjunction with FAI, thus treatment should be fairly consisted amongst these intra-articular defects (Beck et al). Of the tests evaluated, below are the statistical analyses:


While none of these tests demonstrate an overwhelming ability to diagnose FAI and/or intra-articular pathologies of the hip, it does give the practicing clinician a foundation to stand on when conducting a physical examination. One test result in isolation does not give the clinician the ability to exclude or diagnose any condition (especially when the predictive values and specificities/sensitivities are so low). Clustered findings when compared to the patient’s complaints and characteristics should give the therapist the information necessary to produce and carry out a successful treatment plan. When FAI appears to be a likely diagnosis, consider the patient’s sport and/or occupation, characteristics (Clohisy et al), and clinical examination findings (Reiman et al). By taking all factors of the evaluation into consideration, the ability to accurately diagnose the injury and apply interventions found to be beneficial for that specific pathology improves immensely. All this being said, can FAI be managed conservatively?

A systematic review published by Wall et al shows preliminary evidence that conservative management with the addition of activity modification may provide improved symptoms in patients with FAI. Within the randomized controlled trials evaluated, interventions found to be beneficial included joint mobilization (Long-axis Distraction, Lateral distraction, anterior glide, and posterior glide), core strengthening, gluteal strengthening, proprioception, and hip flexor stretching. Additionally, several studies found that passive range of motion of the hip results in counter-productive exacerbation of symptoms and should be avoided in lieu of the aforementioned beneficial interventions. In addition to these interventions provided by physical therapists, many patients will also be prescribed NSAIDs and be asked to modify their activities and/or techniques in order to avoid positions that exacerbate their symptoms (Samora et al). Treatment and diagnosis of femoroacetabular impingement is in its infancy, however by utilizing current evidence and relying on all aspects of your patient’s evaluation and response to treatment, your patient outcomes will continue to improve as our knowledge of this condition continues to grow.

For further information on Femoroacetabular Impingement, visit MedBridge Education’s website for continuing education courses.