If you’re lucky, you won’t notice your hips are tight until you’re trying to do the Half Pigeon pose in your yoga class. But if you’re not so fortunate, your tight hips are making themselves known every time you so much as walk to the bathroom or sit on the couch—expressing themselves in the form of lower back pain and muscle stiffness. Tight hips can even shorten your stride, slowing your 5K goal time!
These are large, full-range movements of one or more joints at once, often performed standing and sometimes while walking or jogging. They resemble old-school movements you might have done in calisthenics or gym class: arm swings, leg swings, high-knee walks. You usually count off reps, rather than time, on dynamic stretches, which work best as a warm-up activity before a workout, or any time you need a pick-me-up boost throughout the day.
To stretch your quadriceps at the hip, the idea is to do the opposite movement to flexion, i.e., extension. You can perform extension moves at the hip while standing, lying on your side, lying prone (on your stomach) and kneeling. Even basic stretches done at a pain-free level where you can feel a small bit of challenge, and that are held continuously for approximately 30 seconds may translate to better posture and less back pain.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Your feet should be flat, and your legs should be straight. Step your right back behind your body, keeping your hips parallel, and stretch your right hand up overhead at the same time. Step back up to starting position. That's one rep. Repeat eight times on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
• Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. The skin disease often precedes the arthritis; in a small percentage the joint disease develops before the skin disease. For about 20 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis, the disease involves the spine. In some cases, bony overgrowth can cause two or more vertebrae to grow together, or fuse, causing stiffness.
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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 often-debilitating sciatic nerve pain that can start in your lower back and go down the backs of your legs.
Take a step back and think about where you spend most of your day. If you're a young athlete, you probably spend most of your time at school or maybe work or practice and even a little time at home, if you're lucky. Now think about what position your body is in during those periods. I would bet that you spend most of your day sitting down. You may walk to class or run in practice, but the majority of your day is spent in a seated position.
Both types of problems are frequently helped by anti-inflammatory medications particularly in mild to moderate situations. Some types of analgesics can be used intermittently as well. It's important to realize that both problems can be helped significantly by weight loss, proper forms of exercise and conditioning. In fact, back pain can become chronic without a commitment to the appropriate exercises necessary to stabilize and strengthen the spine. Epidural blocks (corticosteroids are injected into the canal of the low back to reduce inflammation and pain) can help several types of back disorders. Using a cane when walking can help both hip and back pain.
Deanna is an ACE® certified personal trainer, Balanced Body® Pilates instructor, and NASM® Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is passionate about inspiring others to lead a healthier lifestyle through fun workouts and healthy food. When she’s not creating new workouts and recipes for her blog The Live Fit Girls she enjoys running with her two dogs and traveling.
The hip is a very stable ball and socket type joint with an inherently large range of motion. The hip contains some of the largest muscle in the body as well as some of the smallest. Most people lack mobility due to a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Periods of prolonged sitting results in tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings. Tightness in the muscles and ligaments can created joint forces that result in arthritis, postural problems, bursitis, and mechanical back pain.
How to: Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you (a). Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot (b). Put your hands behind your body, fingertips facing away from your body and begin to press your hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Keep your back tall and chest open (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the other side.
However, even the things you do every day — like sitting in front of a computer or at a desk for hours — can both weaken and shorten (tighten) your hip flexors, making them more prone to injury. Because of this, exercises (such as squats) and targeted stretches which focus on strengthening the hip muscles and improving hip mobility are key to preventing injuries.
But there are some pretty serious causes for back and hip pain as well. Lower back pain, in particular, can be a sign of various serious conditions such as advanced kidney infections or a condition called interstitial cystitis, which can cause inflammation of the tissues of the bladder. Sciatica causes lower back pain, pain in the back of the knee, pain in right buttock cheek, unilateral (one-sided) pain, thigh pain, pain behind the knee and calf, and muscle weakness in legs as well.
Acute back pain is often the result of muscle sprains or strains. Sprains occur when your ligaments are overstretched and sometimes torn. Strains, on the other hand, are caused by stretching — and possible tearing — of your tendons or muscles. Though the immediate reaction is pain in your back, you may also experience dull aches or discomfort in your hip.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that specifically affects the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis causes a severe inflammation of the spinal vertebra that can cause debilitating pain throughout the back region. This condition can cause stiffness and pain not only in the spine but also inflammation, pain and stiffness in the ribs, shoulders, ribcage, hands, and feet as well. Symptoms include a dull pain in the lower back and buttocks, stiffness and lack of mobility in the hips, back, and legs, loss of appetite, fever, and general malaise. Treatment includes physical therapy, medication, hot and cold therapy, and exercises that reinforce good posture practices.
That’s a problem. “Elongated periods of sitting sends messages to certain muscles to stay turned on, which keeps other muscles turned off,” says Beachbody fitness expert Cody Braun. “This creates an imbalance, which can immobilize your hips.” Your hips are built to move in almost any direction, explains Braun, and when they’re stiff, they don’t just make exercise more difficult; they also make you more prone to pain in surrounding joints — including the oft-troublesome lower back.
Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.