17 Exercises for Hip Pain Relief
Hip aches and pains are common for a lot of individuals. Chronic health conditions like arthritis or musculoskeletal issues can cause hip pain and discomfort.
Hip pain can also be related to pre-existing conditions, like back pain and arthritis, which can make life insurance more expensive. Because we constantly use our hips for movement, hip pain and injuries can significantly impact our daily lives. For this reason, we'll cover the anatomy of hips, hip pain causes, what hip muscles do, and exercises to alleviate hip pain.
Anatomy of the Hip
The hip is the second most mobile joint of the body right behind the shoulder joint. The hip is made up of the femur bone and the pelvis bones. The hip tends to be fairly stable in younger adults but less stable in older adults.
There are a number of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the hip. Tendons connect muscles to bone, and ligaments connect bone to bone. There are also other structures like cartilage that protect the bones and bursae that are important for shock absorption.
One fun fact about the hip is that the strongest ligament in the body is located in the hip and connects the ilium (the top and middle of the pelvis) to the femur (the thigh bone).
Hip Pain Causes
Many individuals experience hip issues, including tight muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Bursa can become inflamed, which is called bursitis. Arthritis can cause inflammation and pain in the hip joint. Cartilage can wear down as we get older, and that can also cause pain.
Pain in other areas of the body, like lower back pain or knee pain, can also cause hip pain.
Tight hip muscles can be due to a number of factors, including improper posture, sitting too much, or a lack of flexibility. Enhancing the muscular strength and endurance of the hip muscles and doing regular hip stretches can help relieve hip pain.
What do Hip Muscles do?
It is important to have a good understanding of the muscles that move the hip. In the front of the hip, you have a group of muscles called the hip flexors. These muscles move the thigh forward and up toward the abdomen.
The hip flexors can be tight in some individuals, causing pain or discomfort in many areas of the lower, including low back, knee, or even the feet/ankles. The hip flexor muscles include the rectus femoris (one of the quadriceps muscles), iliopsoas, sartorius (the longest muscle in the body), and the tensor fasciae latae.
You also have muscles that support the hip on the outside or lateral part of the thigh are called the hip abductors. Those that support the inner thigh or medial part of the hip are called the hip adductors.
The muscles that support the back or posterior part of the hip include the hamstrings muscle group and the gluteal muscle group. Tight hamstrings are a common issue for many active individuals.
When exercising or stretching the hip muscles, it is important to stretch the muscles in the front, back, outside, and inside of the hip.
Exercises to Alleviate Hip Pain
There are a number of hip exercises that can strengthen muscles, enhance hip joint range of motion, and bring relief from hip pain.
For each exercise, start with 10 to 12 repetitions. You can add another set of 10 to 12 repetitions when possible. Using a resistance band, an inexpensive piece of equipment, adds resistance to hip exercises and helps build strength. An ankle weight is also helpful for some of the exercises.
Hip Raise (aka Hip Bridge)
For this exercise, you will lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You will push your pelvis and hip toward the ceiling, pause for a few seconds, then slowly lower back down.
Single-Leg Hip Raise
This is done the same as the hip raise above, but now you will have one knee bent with that foot flat on the floor and the other leg is raised off the floor in a comfortable position.
You will use just one leg to lift the pelvis and hip off the floor while keeping your core stable.
Standing Hip Abduction
For this exercise, you can use an ankle weight or a resistance band on your lower leg above the ankle. You can hold on to a chair or wall as needed. While keeping your knee straight, lift one leg out to the side while balancing on the other leg, pause, then lower back down.
You should feel the effort on the outside of your leg and part of your butt where the hip abductors are located. You might also feel it in the leg you are balancing on as it works to stabilize the body.
Lying Hip Abduction
For this exercise, the movement is very similar to the standing hip abduction, but instead of standing, you will be lying on one side. You will raise your top leg and foot while keeping the knee straight, pause, then lower. You should feel the effort in the hip adductors or inside part of the thigh.
Lying Hip Adduction
You can stay in the same position as the previous exercise, but now you will be moving the bottom leg. The top leg will need to move so you can place that foot on the ground in front or back of your other leg.
Bring the bottom leg and foot up toward the ceiling, pause, then lower back to the ground. You might have a limited range of motion for this exercise, but that’s normal.
Full sit-ups work your abdominal muscles and also focus on the hip flexors. Your knees should be bent with your feet flat on the floor. Bring your torso up to your knees and thighs, then slowly lower back down.
Straight Leg Raise
For this exercise, you will start by lying on your back with legs and knee extended straight out. While keeping the knee extended, bring your feet up and toward your head.
You can do these as single leg exercises or using both legs at the same time.
Bicycle With a Resistance Band around Ankles
A resistance band around your ankles will add some resistance to this exercise. Start with elbows bent behind the head and knees and hips bent. While contracting your abdominals and rotating your trunk, you will attempt to touch your opposite elbow and knee.
Switch and try to touch your elbow and knee on the other side. This exercise is best done slowly.
Prone Back and Hip Extension
For this exercise, you will lie on your stomach with arms and legs stretched out and extended. At the same time, you will lift one arm and the opposite side leg, pause, then slowly lower. You can either repeat on the same side or alternate sides. You can also start from all fours, with palms flat on the ground and knees on the ground.
Squats are great for the posterior muscles as well as some in the front of the leg. Squats can be done with or without some type of resistance.
Bend knees and hip and push your butt back like you are sitting in an imaginary seat. Make sure your knees don’t cross over the end of your toes.
To do a stationary lunge, start with feet together, then step one foot backward. Bend your knees to lower toward the floor while keeping the front knee from crossing over the toes. You should feel the effort in your butt and thighs.
You can also do walking lunges by stepping forward then descending into a lunge while propelling yourself forward with each lunge.
Stretches to Alleviate Hip Pain
The flexibility of the hip can be enhanced by stretching or yoga targeted at the muscles that cross the hip joint. It is also helpful to stretch these muscles following exercise.
For each stretch, try to hold it for 10-30 seconds and complete at least 2-3 repetitions of each stretch.
Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push your belly button and pelvis toward the floor while flattening your back and hold this position.
Then switch and push your belly button toward the ceiling while keeping your butt and upper back on the floor then hold this position. You are just tilting your pelvic forward and backward with this stretch.
This stretch is done while lying on one side. Bend knees while keeping them stacked on top of each other. Bring the top knee up and toward the ceiling, make a “clamshell” shape with your legs.
This movement could also be done as an exercise with a resistance band.
Spinal Extension (Cobra Pose)
The spinal extension stretch is a common yoga movement called cobra pose. You can start lying face down on the floor then place palms on the floor and push your upper body off the floor.
Your hips and thighs should remain on the floor or just move slightly off the floor. Hold this position.
Standing Hip Flexor stretch
This stretch is similar to the position of a lunge but is held to stretch the muscles of the hip. Start with one foot in front the other with the front knee bent and the back leg extended.
Keep your hip facing forward and try not to let the front knee bend in front of the toes. Push your hips forward to feel the stretch then switch legs.
Kneeling Hip Flexor stretch
This is a similar stretch to the standing hip flexor stretch, but you are kneeling on the ground instead. You will have the front knee bent with the foot flat on the floor and the back knee flat on the floor.
Push your hips forward so you feel a stretch in the front of your hip and hold this position. Switch to do the other leg.
Seated Hip Flexion
While seated in a chair bring one knee up toward the ceiling and grab the lower leg. Use your hands to push the knee toward the ceiling to stretch out the back muscles of the hip.
This YouTube video has demonstrations of many of the hip exercises and hip stretches described above.
Managing Your Hip Pain
Exercises and stretches are a great way to manage hip pain. Walking and light cardiorespiratory activities are also helpful in building muscular strength and endurance to support the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the hip as long as they do not cause more pain.
There are a number of pain management strategies, like hot and cold therapy, relaxation techniques, and pain relief gels that can be used alone or in conjunction with exercises and stretches.
There are also other pain management products such as assistance devices to help improve mobility, comfort, or safety available for individuals with hip pain or hip injuries.
About the Author
Melissa Morris gives fitness and healthy living advice on the life insurance comparison site, EffortlessInsurance.com, and she has an MS in exercise science. She is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. She teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa.
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