It is hard to say how long and how bad something should bother you before you decide to have it checked out. In general, if you begin experiencing hip symptoms, think back to see if you can identify any activity or change in your routine that may have precipitated the symptoms. If you can modify or avoid these for a while, it may be appropriate. Many people will try a little over-the-counter non-steroidal medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen if it is not contraindicated for them. If symptoms persist or seem to be worsening, then it is probably prudent to have this investigated further.
Your primary care physician can assist in obtaining radiographs as well as implementing conservative treatment. However, remember that some hip joint disorders can be elusive, even to experienced orthopaedic surgeons.
X-rays are an important part of any routine evaluation. However, interpreting x-rays for clues of the hip joint problem may require the eyes of a physician experienced in these disorders. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a sophisticated, non-radiation scan that helps to look at the various soft tissue structures within and around the hip, including cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. However, not all MRI machines are the same. It takes a particularly high quality machine with high resolution images to detect any of the problems normally seen inside the joint. Even these studies are imperfect and may overlook some disorders. Most important, is simply a thorough examination by an experienced physician. Hip problems may co-exist with tendinitis or back problems, just to mention a few. When needed, a diagnostic injection of anesthetic can temporarily numb the interior of the joint for a short period of time and quickly help to distinguish whether the hip is the problem. This can be conveniently performed in the office with ultrasound guidance, which is the least obtrusive way to check this.