Crossfit with a torn Hip Labrum

It has finally happened… my hip gave out.

A car accident 37 years ago changed my life and left me with a fractured hip. The ortho doc that treated me in 1976 told me that ‘IT’ would happen when I was 40. He said that my hip would probably break due to avascular necrosis, and that I should never play tennis.

I followed his directions; did not play tennis, did not develop avascular necrosis, and my hip never did break.

But….a few days ago, as I was pivoting to change direction during a running interval, I felt a red hot searing pain shoot through my right hip. The pain was enormous, and I knew immediately that I was in trouble. The pain was relentless regardless if I was moving or resting. So to rule out a stress fracture, I had an X-ray to be sure the hip was not broken. The pain was familiar, I’d been here before with my other hip.

My labrum is torn.

The pain continued to be immeasurable the first few days after it happened. I got little relief from taking Ibuprofen or Tylenol twice a day just so I could show up at work and not shriek every time I stepped on my right leg. NSAIDS, Tylenol…not really working…

First thought; gotta reach out to Dr. Phillippon, the wonderful surgeon who fixed my left hip. Second and “almost” immediate thought… How would I maintain the level of fitness I have worked so hard to achieve? What am I gonna do at Crossfit??

I spent the next days searching for blogs with advice and suggestions about how to answer those questions. I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to run. I also knew that hip flexion and external rotation combined was a lethally painful, unstable move that was accompanied by a noticeable ‘clunk.’ My search came up empty; just more questions from other labrum tear sufferers that hadn’t had surgical repair yet. So… I decided I’ll blog about my own experiences until I get this fixed.

The first thing that happens with any joint derangement is resulting weakness of the surrounding joint musculature. That meant that I had to actively contract my glute muscles (read: butt) in order to step on my leg. I noticed when I did that, my pain seemed to diminish.

My thought process then; fire my glutes when I work out and see what happens.

This morning I decided to do Eva, a Crossfit benchmark WOD, in my garage.

Equipment available: spin bike, 16 kg kettlebell, and a TRX.

This is the RX WOD:                                                     This is MY EVA:

“Eva”                                                                              “Eva”

5 Rounds For Time                                                       5 Rounds For Time

800m Run                                                                     3:30 Bike                                        30KB Swings, 32/24kg                                                  30 KB Swings, 16 kg                                                              30 Pull-ups                                                                   30 Ring Rows

3:30 is about what a 2K takes me to complete on the bike. I kept my pace constant. Paying attention to my stroke, since I wasn’t clipped in to the pedals, was very important. I was careful not to pull up and engage my hip flexors, but rather use the balls of my feet to push back and get those glutes (hip extensors) firing.

While I did the kettle bell swings, I planted my feet and gripped the floor with my toes, activating external rotation of my hips that really felt good while I did the swings.

I have a shoulder injury from a road bike accident 3 years ago and can’t do pull-ups. (More on that on a later blog). I also have no pull-up bar I modified by doing ring rows with my TRX to work my lats and core, which of course helps stabilize my hips…

I completed the WOD in 35:54, sweaty, tired, happy, almost pain-free and somewhat able to walk….(until I sat for 30 minutes, and the pain came back).

At least my questions have been answered. Modifying Crossfit WODS will prepare me for the labrum repair. Prehab is almost as important as the post surgical rehab.

I’m off to work on modifying some other benchmark Crossfit WODS; stay tuned!


3 thoughts on “Crossfit with a torn Hip Labrum

  1. Guy

    One of the best parts of crossfit is the ability to modify wods or exercises to accommodate the person who is exercising! Just another great example right here… Sitting around and doing nothing will never help an injury get better! Keep it up Ellen!

  2. Ben

    Hey Ellen. I have a diagnosed posterior hip labrum tear with surgery to reanchor the labrum in a few weeks. I’m interested in if you had the surgery and what your outcome has been. I was an active CFer until this year and am wondering if it is realistic to return to WODs after this surgery (I’m 38 and don’t want a hip replacement in then next 20 years). I think I could still stay strong modifying workouts outside of WODs but would love to return to full activity if possible. Any thoughts?

    1. fitinthebox Post author

      Hi Ben. Here’s what happened with me: I began doing Crossfit 2 1/2 years after my L hip labrum repair. I still have 2 tears in my R hip labrum from a car accident so many years ago, and doing squats definitely aggravated the pain and impingement as recently as a year ago. I was so dis-abled that I scheduled the repair for Oct 2nd of this year, and then embarked on a glute strengthening program (of my own design), along with some particular mobility moves, and painstaking (pun intended!) attention to my form. Long story short, is that I have cancelled the surgery, and have mild instability but no pain or impingement. When I had my L hip repaired I didn’t know as much as I do now about movement and activation. I was also so unstable on that hip, that I would fall just crossing a street, so in retrospect I probably needed the fix. How severe is your tear? Are you unstable?

      To answer your question…I modify WODS because I am 54, not because of my torn labrum or my repair. I am actually getting a lot stronger every day. 24″ box jumps and double unders are my best friends, and I love to deadlift. I don’t want a hip replacement either.

      Give me some more information about the behavior of your symptoms. I can answer you via email more specifically if you’d like.


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