If, like most of us, your hip joints could use some TLC, help has arrived. All you need to do is spend a moment or two before and after your workouts — or, heck, while watching TV — on a time-honored fitness activity few of us do enough of: stretching. Below, we’ll show you some of the best hip stretches to improve flexibility and mobility, hopefully making up for all that time on the couch.
Tight hamstrings are a common cause of lower back pain, and if you have a desk job, you’re at risk for both. Perform the seated forward fold paschimottanasana several times a day to stretch your shoulders, hamstrings, and spine. Sit on your mat with your legs straight, your feet together and flexed, your torso erect (but not arched), and your chin lifted like you’re proud to be performing this pose (which you should be!). Take a deep breath in, straightening up as much as you can, and then fold forward, walking your hands down the sides of your legs as you lower your torso as far as you can. Hold the pose for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly reverse the movement to raise your torso back up.
Some back pain is caused from a "ruptured disc". This pain is often experienced in the gluteal region of the body. Many people call this the "hip" region although it is not usually indicative of a hip joint problem. This is actually behind the hip, an important anatomic thought when considering hip pain, rather than in the hip itself. A condition related to degeneration of the lower back creating narrowing of the spinal canal or adjacent areas is called spinal stenosis and frequently causes pain in the hip region. The history of stenosis has to be compared with hip joint pain. Spinal stenosis can cause leg pain while walking as well as fatigue in the legs even when rising from a chair. Stenosis pain is relieved with sitting and will re-occur when walking is resumed.
But mobile hip joints don’t just relieve pain. They’re also essential for walking, hiking, running, jumping, dancing, playing sports, and pursuing virtually any fitness goal safely and effectively. Want to develop stronger, more muscular legs? Hip mobility allows you to lunge and squat more deeply so you can reach your muscles’ potential. Want to avoid injury? Hip mobility improves range of motion so you can perform exercises more safely.
The piriformis muscle connects the top of the femur to the spine, and it’s the main one that supports the outward movement of the hip, upper leg, and foot. The sciatic nerve can sometimes pass through this muscle and thus cause sciatica symptoms, otherwise known as piriformis syndrome, characterized by pain in the lower back and hips, poor movement, and balance. Therefore, the main cause of sciatica is the swelling or constriction of the piriformis muscle, but it can also be a result of some other factors as well.
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.
It’s a common issue, says Prevention advisor Rob Danoff, director of family and emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia. "For people who sit a long time at work, the hip flexors and rotators become tight, and the gluteal muscles become weak," he says. "This combination negatively affects our ability to walk, maintain proper posture, and the stability of our spine."
You can use over-the-counter remedies such as Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) to help with pain and swelling. Tylenol (acetaminophen) works for pain relief, but it doesn't treat inflammation and swelling. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or if you've had ulcers or internal bleeding, check with your doctor before taking any of these medications.