Too much sitting is the enemy of stiff or achy hips, says Lisa Woods, a personal trainer and yoga teacher in Eagle, Colorado. The big problem, though, isn’t just the discomfort in the sides of your thighs. It’s the chain of pain that dysfunctional hips can create, including sciatic nerve pain that can start in your lower back and go down the backs of your legs.
The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Strength training is another key part of the “do” category, Dr. Vasileff says. “It’s a good idea to focus on quad, hamstring, and glute strength,” he says. These muscles surround your hips and provide support, along with your core—which is another area to focus on. “Strengthening your core helps to normalize your walking pattern and stabilize how your pelvis and hips move,” Dr. Vasileff says. That translates to less pain and better hip mobility.
The bony lumbar spine is designed so that vertebrae "stacked" together can provide a movable support structure while also protecting the spinal cord from injury. The spinal cord is composed of nervous tissue that extends down the spinal column from the brain. Each vertebra has a spinous process, a bony prominence behind the spinal cord, which shields the cord's nervous tissue from impact trauma. Vertebrae also have a strong bony "body" (vertebral body) in front of the spinal cord to provide a platform suitable for weight bearing of all tissues above the buttocks. The lumbar vertebrae stack immediately atop the sacrum bone that is situated in between the buttocks. On each side, the sacrum meets the iliac bone of the pelvis to form the sacroiliac joints of the buttocks.
Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
Prolonged sitting and activities like running or cycling can lead to tight hip flexor muscles and a variety of skeletal imbalances. Think: if you only cycle for exercise, certain muscles in your legs will get stronger (in a lot of cases you overwork these muscles) yet your core and outer hip muscles might get weaker from lack of engagement. So what? Well, these muscle imbalances often lead to skeletal imbalances and injuries down the line. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, your body will start to create an anterior pull on the pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt). You can identify an anterior pelvic tilt if your belly protrudes slightly in the front while your butt sticks out in the back (what some people refer to as “duck butt”).
In diagnosing the causes of hip pain, it’s important to understand hip anatomy. The hip is basically a ball-and-socket joint similar to the shoulder joint and the arms. The hip joint is impressive in that it serves two factors, it is a support structure and also very flexible. Because it is a strong support structure, it tends to get injured. Because it’s very flexible, it similarly can be susceptible to injuries.
Grade II (moderate): A larger tear in your muscle that makes it difficult to move and causes a moderate amount of pain, especially when you move the affected muscle, swelling, and tenderness. You may have 5 percent to 50 percent loss of function and you may be limping. You can't go back to sporting activities until the tear is completely healed. These injuries can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months to heal, depending on how bad they are.
Example: a friend of mine went to the hospital after a motorcycle accident. He’d flown over a car and landed hard on his head. Bizarrely, he was sent home with very little care, and no imaging of his back, even though he was complaining of severe lower back pain. A doctor reassured him that it was just muscle spasms. (This all happened at a hospital that was notorious for being over-crowded and poorly run.) The next day, still in agony, he went to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic, who immediately took him for an x-ray … which identified a serious lumbar fracture and imminent danger of paralysis. He had been lucky to get through the night without disaster! He was placed on a spine board immediately and sent for surgery. The moral of the story? Sometimes, when you’ve had a major trauma and your back really hurts, it’s because your back is broken. BACK TO TEXT
If you are experiencing true numbness14 around the groin and buttocks and/or failure of bladder or bowel control, please consider it a serious emergency — do not wait to see if it goes away. These symptoms indicate spinal cord injury or compression15 and require immediate medical attention. (Few people will have symptoms like this without having already decided it’s an emergency, but I have to cover all the bases here.)