MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.
Hip hikers (also known as the pelvic drop) are great exercises to get your gluteal muscles working in a weight bearing position. To do the exercise, stand sideways with one foot on a step and the other hanging off. Keeping both knees straight, lower down your pelvis on one side so your foot moves toward the floor. Both knees should remain straight; the motion should come from your hip joint. Once your pelvis is lowered down, slowly raise it back up to the starting position. Repeat the exercise for 10 repetitions.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hands on hips. Brace your core—imagine you’re about to get punched in the stomach. Without changing the position of your knees, bend at your hips and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor (or as far as you can comfortably go without rounding your back). Pause, then lift your torso back to the starting position. Be sure to squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward to lift your torso back to the starting position. This ensures you’re engaging your hip muscles instead of relying on your lower back. Do 10 reps total.
Piriformis syndrome is not considered a serious injury—so RICE is in order for pain caused by triggers, like sitting too long. RICE is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Also, see a primary care doctor or neurologist (nerve specialist), who can recommend physical therapy exercises and exercises for hip pain and other specific types of pain that will help you feel better. Also, a physican therapist can suggest ways exercises that provide pinched nerve relief, as nerve pain relief is what is primarily needed here.
Along with these exercises, it's also important to do some supplementary exercises to work your hip's supporting muscles. You've probably heard of your shoulder's rotator cuff. Well, your hip also has a cuff, or a group of muscles that help stabilize and support movement. For these exercises, you'll need a mini-band, a longer thera-band or tubing (both are sold at many sporting goods stores, or can be purchased online), and a cable-column unit.
The same lack of correct breathing also perpetuates a diastasis. Without proper deep breathing, you can compensate a couple ways. The first is to draw in your belly button and go into a shallow breathing pattern and the second is to have belly only expansion. Both of these can hinder diastasis healing. The cool thing is that I’ve actually had women experience spontaneous firming of their diastasis when we get down a correct breathing pattern. It’s a phenomena that always amazes me. The same thing can happen with decreasing prolapse symptoms.
Kelly is a certified Personal Trainer with NASM, a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher, and has her Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from San Diego State University. In addition to wellness coaching, she runs yoga and wellness retreats around the world with her company Elevated Retreats. She believes that having fun with well-rounded exercise and healthy eating is the key to maximizing strength, flexibility, and mental health. You can find more on Kelly at her website www.kellycollinswellness.com or on Instagram @kellymariecollins.
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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..
Wrapping a Thera-Band around your ankles before you perform Lateral Walks or Shuffles increases resistance, strengthening your hip abductors and gluteus medius. When you perform this exercise, you will quickly find out if you have weak hips. This is most beneficial for basketball players, who are required to be in a crouched defensive stance and shuffle when playing defense.
How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
The good news is that there are plenty of good hip stretches out there that you can do to relieve discomfort, decrease tightness, and increase mobility in your hips. Since your hips are involved in so many of the movements you make (both inside and outside of the gym) stretching them is a great way to keep them feeling good and ready to work for you. Add some of the 12 hip stretches Atkins demos below to the end of your workout, or spend 10 minutes each day just doing a few of them, to improve mobility in your hips.