There is a good chance that you or someone you know currently has or has had hip pain at some point in time. The hips so often find themselves in a no-win situation, with the burden of our torsos bearing down upon them combined with the inactivity of sitting in a compromising position for hours upon hours. The hips are also a common area for us to hold a lot of emotion and stress. On the more active side, sports such as running and cycling offer a constant and often overuse of the musculature that surrounds the hips, which can lead to muscle imbalances and improper activation patterns. It is actually quite impressive for someone NOT to have hip pain with so many factors stacked up against them!
So, what can we do to help with and even avoid hip pain, keeping these joints happy and healthy? Here are a few tips that you can use throughout the day and night to modify some routine activities:
Many of us stand with our weight on one hip. You can probably guess that this isn't great for our joints or our muscles. There is often a good reason that we do this, however, and making sure that your pelvis, feet, ankles, and knees are well aligned is one piece of the puzzle in controlling the mechanisms responsible for hip (or knee) pain. Another piece is making sure that the muscles that support the hip and maintain its alignment are all doing their jobs. You may have heard that weak gluteal muscles or weak adductors (the muscle group on the inside of the thigh) can contribute to hip or knee pain, which is true, but there is often more to the story.
So, how should we stand in order to ease the pressure off of the hips?
With your feet shoulder width apart and feet pointing straight ahead, bend your knees ever so slightly. Subtly rotate your thighs inward, gently squeezing your thighs towards one another. Tuck your tailbone under slightly, drawing your belly button inward to engage the abdominals, and lift the spine upwards, as if a rope was pulling it towards the sky. Rotate your hands to face outward, pull your shoulders back and down, opening the chest, and slide your chin back towards your throat, lengthening the back of your neck slightly. This probably feels quite ridiculous, right?!?
Hold this stance for 3-5 breaths, thinking of lifting the spine upward on each inhale and drawing the lower abdomen inward with each exhale, but not losing the length gained on each breath. This should feel uncomfortable if you have not done this before or if you have postural issues.
This is a great, simple way to take a 30 second break if you have a sedentary job!
Walking can, in fact, be a wonderful low-impact activity for your hips and the rest of your body. Similar to standing, however, if you are walking with improper alignment and if you have muscles that are not doing their job, then walking can actually become a detriment and can contribute to more wear and tear on the cartilage within your hip joints.
By recruiting the feet and ankles to do more work during walking, you can often relieve some of the pressure on the hips and the excess hip flexion that can occur with poor biomechanics. You may need to think a lot about exaggerating the motion at the feet and ankles to get them to do more of the work at first, but with time and practice, it should become more natural. If you have tight ankles and/or stiff feet, these are regions that a Chiropractor can adjust to improve joint mobility.
An obvious one, right?! Sitting places more forward (upward when in a chair) strain on the femoral head, which is often sitting too far forward in its capsule in the first place. In order to minimize this forward strain, you can engage certain muscles:
Squeeze your thighs together (while maintaining the space between your knees) at the same time as activating your glutes. You can push your feet into the floor in order to make sure you are activating the glutes. It will feel like you have risen a couple of inches in your chair. Add a slight pelvic tilt and draw your belly button in and you are in hip protection mode! (As much as you can be seated, that is.) Hold this position until you feel something (likely the weak glutes) shake or quiver with fatigue, and then release. Try this often throughout the day and see if you can get the length of time until you start shaking to lengthen! (Take joy in the small things, right?)
Sleeping can wreak havoc on both hips if you don't have the proper setup. If you are a side sleeper, the hip you sleep on can receive too much compression over the femoral head and irritate the bursa, a fluid filled sac that overlies the bony part of the hip. The hip that is facing up is also placed on constant strain unless you can support it by placing a pillow in between your knees. You can also minimize the stress on your hips while sleeping by investing in a good, firm (but not overly firm) mattress and rotating it regularly. Stretching the hips, glutes, and lower back and using a foam roller on these areas prior to going to bed can also help to relieve pain throughout the night.
These are only a few of the myriad activities that can strain a weakened hip. If you have chronic undiagnosed hip pain, please get in to see your Chiropractor to re-align and restore function to your pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles. Hip pain often leads to low back pain and vice-versa, so don't wait any longer to take care of your precious hips--you will need them to be in good shape for many more years!