Strong ligaments and muscles support the SI joints. There is a very small amount of motion in the joint for normal body flexibility. As we age our bones become arthritic and ligaments stiffen. When the cartilage wears down, the bones may rub together causing pain (Fig. 1). The SI joint is a synovial joint filled with fluid. This type of joint has free nerve endings that can cause chronic pain if the joint degenerates or does not move properly.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.
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.
When lifting weights, it's important to find out how much weight is appropriate for you. Pariser recommends visiting your physical therapist to discuss how to safely lift weights without injuring your hip. “The lightest weight on the machines might be five or 10 pounds,” Pariser says. “That might be too hard for some people.” A good rule of thumb: Always use a weight that's light enough for you to lift comfortably.
How to: Sit on the floor with knees bent so that your right shin is positioned in front of you, your left shin behind you and your left hip dropped all of the way to the floor (a). Inhale and press your left hip forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip (b). Exhale and press left hip back to the floor. That’s one rep (c). Complete six to eight reps, working each time to increase your range of motion. Repeat on the opposite side.
The gluteus medius is a muscle that sits on the outside of the hip area. This muscle is used for standing upright and walking. When injured, these muscles will cause a limp. If these muscles are torn, it can cause severe pain when walking, sitting, or sleeping. Treatment usually involves rest, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery to repair the torn muscle, if no other treatments bring relief from pain.
Often people go to the doctor seeking help for hip pain. Sometimes, people try to treat it themselves. They are convinced there is something wrong with their hip and the treatments begin. However, one thing is for sure, hip pain is not always as it appears. Hip pain can be a result of a problem in the hip joint itself. However, it can also be a result of a back problem or a soft tissue problem around the hip region.
Joint injections: Steroids can reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerves. Joint injections are a minimally invasive procedure that involves an injection of a corticosteroid and an analgesic-numbing agent into the painful joint (Fig. 2). While the results tend to be temporary, if the injections are helpful they can be repeated up to three times a year.
Even though it seems like your legs are moving forward and backward when you’re running, in reality, the femur (your thigh bone) both rotates and tilts in the hip socket, Kalika explains. It’s the hip adductors—most notably the gluteus medius—that keeps the femur sitting in the socket as designed. (The hip adductors are the muscles that move your legs inward.) Any weaknesses make the joint unstable, and can contribute to poor running mechanics, hip drop (when the pelvis drops to one side), too-narrow stances, and aggravated tissues throughout the entire body, Sauer says.
Mobility and exercise (e.g., walking, running, stretching, etc.) help to more evenly distribute the forces of impact and weight through this ball-and-socket joint. As people age or find themselves living a more sedentary lifestyle from (e.g., sitting a lot at work), the wear and tear of the hip joint is less distributed, taking place in a smaller area within the socket.
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.
How to: Lie on your back with your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor (a). With your left leg fully extended, press into your right foot to shift onto your left hip. This is your starting position (b). Then, squeeze your right glutes to press your left hip open until you feel a stretch, pause, then return to start. That’s one rep (c). Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
The good news is that a well-rounded strength-training program—like the one Félix provides below—can target every muscle in your hips to build better overall strength. Add this routine to your workout two or three times a week to target every muscle in your hips. For each move, complete three rounds of ten reps. If it’s a single-leg exercise, repeat those reps on each leg.
Ligaments connecting your back to your pelvis: Straining the ligaments around your buttocks and pelvis may result in this type of pain. This area can also be referred to as the sacro-iliac joint. Due to this area linking your lower back and hip you may feel your pain from your lower back through to your hip. Treatment in this presentation should be primarily to the ligament that is strained and addressing posture as well as back stretching exercises when indicated.
Loop a resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
The irritation of the sciatic nerve causes hip and lower back pain, which spreads downwards to the limbs and feet. It is estimated that 4 out of 10 people will develop sciatica or irritation of this nerve at some point in life. The sciatic nerve is located deep in the buttock, beneath the piriformis muscle, so its constriction and swelling can also cause sciatica pain and irritations.
Note: Exercises that strengthen the hip flexors also involve contracting (shortening) these muscles. So if tight hip flexors are a problem for you, it might be wise to limit how many direct hip-strengthening exercises you perform. These exercises are more geared toward people who have been told they have weak hip flexors that need strengthening or are looking for targeted exercises to build more power and stamina in the hip flexors.
The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.
In this study, one patient with sciatica was sent for ten MRIs, which produced 49 distinct “findings,” 16 of them unique, none of which occurred in all ten reports. On average, each radiologist made about a dozen errors, seeing one or two things that weren’t there and missing about ten things that were. Yikes. Read a more detailed and informal description of this study.
Downward facing dog can help stretch and strengthen your feet, calves, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, neck, and hands. Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms into the floor. Now lift your hips and push back with your hands to form an upside down V with your body. Work your heels toward the floor, and let your head hang to relieve any tension you’re holding in your neck. Take 8-10 breaths, and then release.
Mike, I cannot thank you enough for this instruction on stretching the hip flexor muscle. Over the past three years, my driving has increased dramatically. It is not uncommon for me to drive 1,000 business miles or more each week. I have always been very fit, but now, in my early 50’s, I am finding that it is easier to get “wracked up” by things like excessive driving.
Progress to add core engagement. Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement. You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground. Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.
Start in a runner’s lunge with right leg forward, right knee over right ankle and back leg straight. Walk right foot over toward left hand, then drop right shin and thigh to the floor, making sure to keep right knee in line with right hip. Allow left leg to rest on the floor with top of left foot facing down. Take a moment to square your hips to the front of the room. Hold here, or hinge at hips and lower torso toward floor, allowing head to rest on forearms. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side. You want to feel a moderate stretch in the outside of the right thigh, but if this pose hurts your knees or feels too uncomfortable, stick with Thread the Needle.
A diagnostic SI joint injection may be performed to confirm the cause of pain. The SI joint is injected with a local anesthetic and corticosteroid medication. The injection is given using X-ray fluoroscopy to ensure accurate needle placement in the SI joint. Your pain level is evaluated before and 20-30 minutes after injection, and monitored over the next week. Sacroiliac joint involvement is confirmed if your pain level decreases by more than 75%. If your pain level does not change after the injection, it is unlikely that the SI joint is the cause of your low back pain.
Because you won’t stop stretching them. Many people who have consistent hip flexor tightness would be a lot better off if they just stopped stretching them. This often provides only a temporary relief, giving just a small window of comfort. And guess what? The more you stretch them, the shorter that window of relief becomes, until you’re at the point where you’re stretching them multiple times a day for a long duration just to feel good! That’s no way to live!