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Developing Flexible and Healthy Hips

Healthy hips are essential for the majority of your daily movements including sitting, standing, walking, and running. Experiencing hip pain can seriously interfere with your everyday activities. Hip pain can come from many sources, such as overactive or tight muscles that affect the hip joint or other rheumatic diseases that affect joints and connective tissues. Fortunately, a healthy and active lifestyle will greatly reduce your chances of developing hip pain over time.

Maintaining strong, mobile, and durable hips is necessary to be able to perform most of your daily and athletic movements. Whether you are prehabbing to prevent injury, or already experiencing some minor aches and pains, then static and dynamic stretching, resistance training, and a healthy diet and body weight are the best ways to strengthen your hips and develop flexibility.

Consistent exercise is a healthy and sustainable habit, as well as a proven and effective treatment for many problems that cause hip pain. Strength in the muscles surrounding an injured hip can help compensate to support your hip joint by temporarily absorbing some of its responsibilities until the hip is fully recovered. For example, just like how strong quadriceps can take over the shock-absorbing responsibility that typically falls on the meniscus or cartilage in the knee, your hips have to do less work to support your body weight if your quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles are stronger and can support your hip in flexion, extension, and rotation. The proper ratio of strength and neurological signaling in the muscles can hold the joint in the strongest, most supported position while preventing the hip from entering more dangerous and compromising positions that risk injuries like hip impingement. With hip problems, oftentimes, the first muscles to lose strength are the quadriceps and glutes so an exercise plan for any injury is likely to focus on these.

Skeletal muscles contract muscle fibers to pull your skeleton in one direction. In order for your body to stabilize and be able to pull your skeleton in the opposite direction, muscles work in pairs. The main muscle for a specific contraction or movement, referred to as the prime mover, will contract while the opposing muscle, called the antagonist, relaxes. For instance, as you extend your knee (straightening your leg), your quadriceps on the front of your upper leg contract, and the hamstrings on the back extend and relax. Uneven muscle lengths, and strength  imbalances of muscles that work together, can cause joint pain and increase the potential for injury. If your quadriceps are overactive, then your hamstrings cannot fully contract and will fatigue more rapidly as well as feel weaker, so exercise antagonistic muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings equally.

Causes of Hip Pain

While acute injuries including femoral fractures, hip labral tears, and dislocations require immediate medical treatment, persisting hip pain from overuse or improper movement patterns is more common and typically treatable on your own. While hip joints and the size and strength of their surrounding muscles differ between individuals, redeveloping full range of motion in the hip joint and then rebuilding stability and strength in your muscles to support full range of motion should be the main goals for those rehabbing their hip. The femur is similar to the other tissue in your body in that they have specific adaptations to both neglect and overuse. Your hands will develop calluses when you place stress on the skin by rowing, rock climbing, or gripping the knurling of a heavy barbell, and your muscles will develop strength after you put them through the stress of a workout. The bones that make up the hip, which are called the ilium, ischium, and pubis, work the same way. When in an unsafe position, these bones grow additional bone tissue in order to respond to high impact and weight in order to protect themselves. Excess bone can develop near the head of the femur which reduces the joint’s mobility and full range of motion—especially during internal rotation and flexion. Over time, this overdeveloped bone can lead to hip impingement, which increases your chances of developing osteoarthritis or a labral tear. Fortunately, exercising with proper form, stretching often, and staying active and mobile teaches your body healthy movement patterns and appropriate stress responses such as strengthened muscle and increased bone density. If hip pain is preventing you from being able to do specific workouts or movements, consider recovering with low impact exercises like swimming, yoga, and stretching. Decreased hip mobility can also affect pain in other areas of the body such as the lower back and knees. Weak and overactive muscles can also affect surrounding areas of the body so make sure to prioritize your hip health to keep your whole system running well.

Proper nutrition is another key player in joint and muscle health. Deficiencies in certain micro and macronutrients can lead to muscular atrophy, low bone density, and other effects that lead to hip pain. Vitamin C is one of many essential vitamins your body needs. It supports the formation of collagen which cushions and lubricates bones in their sockets, improving bone health and preventing fractures. It is also highly recommended to include a wide range of antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods in your diet including dark, leafy greens, fatty fish like salmon, extra virgin olive oil, berries, and nuts and seeds.

Static and Dynamic Stretches for the Hip Flexors and Surrounding Muscles

Warm-up with light cardio for five to ten minutes to prepare your hip joint and muscles before performing these static and dynamic stretches. Hold stretches for thirty seconds to one minute at a time while building up and completing two to four repetitions where muscles are tight. Flexibility exercises are an important part of any exercise plan to improve joint function, and they stimulate increased blood flow and relaxing targeted muscles.

  1. Standing or kneeling quad stretch
  2. King Arthur stretch (hip flexors)
  3. Butterfly stretch (inner thigh/adductor compartment)
  4. Figure four stretch (external rotators)
  5. Leg swings (hamstrings, hip flexors)
  6. Lateral leg swings (adductors compartment, glutes)
  7. Hamstring/calf stretch with strap
  8. Single-leg adductor and abductor stretches with strap
  9. Lunge with spinal twist (thoracic spine)
  10. Single leg on bench hamstring stretch

Body Weight Exercises for Strong Hips

Warm-up with light cardio for five to ten minutes and a stretching routine to prepare your body for these exercises. Perform three sets of twelve to fifteen repetitions and pay extra attention to your technique. If these exercises seem too intimidating, start with easier variations or simply begin with walking outdoors to get moving!

  1. Bird dogs (Transverse abdominis)
  2. Dead bugs (Transverse abdominis)
  3. Lateral leg raise (Glute med, glute min, and TFL)
  4. Single leg glute bridge (Glute max)
  5. Step ups (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings)
  6. Lateral step ups (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors)
  7. Single leg deadlifts (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings)
  8. Straight leg deadlifts (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings)
  9. Reverse lunges (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings)
  10. Curtsy lunges (Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings)