Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Sarah Duvall, a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health and pelvic function, and who also loves to lift stuff off the floor while helping others do the same. She also has an awesome new course on Postpartum Corrective Exercise for fitness professionals which closes on January 22nd, so definitely check it out.
The question of pain in the hip region is not always a simple one and frequently involves specialized evaluation. Once the diagnosis is determined, options are many and should be discussed with you prior to instituting a treatment plan. The purpose of this article is to help to better assess pain, whether it's coming from the back or the hip itself. Remember, there are many options for treatment. Diagnosis is the first step to successful treatment.
• Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis of the back, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. In the spine, this breakdown occurs in the cartilage of the facet joints, where the vertebrae join. As a result, movement of the bones can cause irritation, further damage and the formation of bony outgrowths called spurs. These spurs can press on nerves, causing pain. New bone formation can also lead to narrowing of the spinal canal, known as spinal stenosis.
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The sacroiliac joint typically has little motion. Small movements at the joint help with shock absorption and forward/backward bending. The joint is reinforced by strong ligaments surrounding it, some of which extend across the joint in the back of the pelvis. This network of soft tissues provides support, limits movement at the joint, and assists with absorbing pressure.
For example, your quadriceps muscles are a group of four that are located at the front of the thigh; one of the group members, the rectus femoris flexes the hip, which brings your lower extremity (thigh, lower leg, and foot) forward, in front of you. On the other hand, your hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. When they contract, they extend the lower extremity, bringing it behind you.
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.
Ischiofemoral Impingement is a common but widely unrecognized cause of hip and back pain. It is caused by a narrowing of the space between the pelvic bone and femur bone, which pinches soft tissues between these boney protrusions. Symptoms of ischiofemoral impingement include front hip pain or feeling of stretched muscles in the hip or hip tendonitis, pain in the hip socket, hip pain at night lying on side, and a feeling as if there is a hip out of place. Treatment for ischiofemoral impingement includes rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, and physical therapy aimed at strengthening the gluteal muscles so the patient can better control the pelvis.
With a roster of muscles ranging from the powerful glutes to the small and agile abductors, the hips control practically all your movements. Almost every endurance athlete overworks some hip muscles while underworking others, causing severe imbalances: Runners are infamous for having weak hip adductors—the muscles on the side of the hip that help you step laterally—while cyclists tend to have massive quads and tiny glutes.
The hip rotators not only rotate the thigh on the pelvis but more functionally rotate the pelvis on the weight bearing fixed thigh. Activities such as swing a golf club, and even just walking require some rotation of the pelvis on the weight bearing leg. While we don't need that much range of motion to walk, activities such as running, dancing, tennis, and many other sports can require more hip rotation.
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.
People understandably assume that the worst back pain is the scariest. In fact, pain intensity is a poor indicator of back pain ominousness,10 and some of the worst causes are actually the least painful (especially in the early stages). For instance, someone could experience the symptoms of cauda equinae syndrome, and be in real danger of a serious and permanent injury to their spine, but have surprisingly little pain — even none at all in some cases!
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.
Why does it tighten down so much when overworking as a spinal stabilizer? Remember that length tension relationship we talked about? Well, if the psoas is tight, it can compress the spine easier, thus providing spinal stability. Plus, it has to work a lot to stabilize the spine. When you don’t have correct functioning of the diaphragm and abdominals, the psoas holds a great deal of tension to do the job. This tightness or tension makes it a very ineffective hip flexor.
How to do it: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor in a tabletop position. Grab a resistance band and hold it directly beneath your shoulders. Loop one foot through the band so it sits halfway down the foot. When ready, move only the banded leg backward, keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle. Your foot should be facing the ceiling, and your hip, thigh, and knee should all be in alignment and parallel to the floor. As you move your leg backward, focus on contracting the glute and not moving the knee joint. When you can’t extend back farther without changing your leg position, stop. Slowly lower to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, say physical therapists and other medical professionals say that increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. It arises from the spinal cord as a collection of fibers from the lower vertebrae. This nerve is responsible for the sensation of the skin of the foot and entire lower leg except for a small area on the inner side. It also supplies muscles in the anterior, lateral and posterior compartments of the leg.
• Spinal stenosis. Literally meaning "spinal narrowing," spinal stenosis can occur when changes in arthritis lead to bony overgrowth of the vertebrae and thickening of the ligaments. This can occur with osteoarthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. If a significant overgrowth occurs, it can cause the spinal column to narrow and press on the nerves housed within. Because the affected nerves have many functions, the condition may cause diverse problems in the lower body, including back pain, pain or numbness in the legs, constipation or urinary incontinence.
The big idea of classification-based cognitive functional therapy (CB-CFT or just CFT) is that most back pain has nothing to do with scary spinal problems and so the cycle of pain and disability can be broken by easing patient fears and anxieties. For this study, CFT was tried with 62 patients and compared to 59 who were treated with manual therapy and exercise. The CFT group did better: a 13-point boost on a 100-point disability scale, and 3 points on a 10-point pain scale. As the authors put it for BodyInMind.org, “Disabling back pain can change for the better with a different narrative and coping strategies.” These results aren’t proof that the confidence cure works, but they are promising.
The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt. However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively. I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.
While leg lifts, certain ab exercises, and even hula hooping can all help work the hips, the hip flexors can still be a tricky part of the body to stretch Kinetics of hula hooping: An inverse dynamics analysis. Cluff, T., Robertson, D.G., and Balasubramaniam, R. School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Human Movement Science, 2008 Aug; 27 (4): 622-35.. To get them even stronger and more flexible, try these five simple hip flexor stretches:
The hip flexors are the group of muscles that allow you to lift your knees toward your chest and bend forward from the hips. What is collectively referred to as the hip flexors is actually a group of muscles that includes the iliopsoas, the thigh muscles (rectus femoris, Sartorius and tensor fasciae latae), and the inner thigh muscles (adductor longus and brevis, pectineus and gracilis).
Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is what noted spinal researcher Stuart McGill terms gluteal amnesia—your glute muscles can "go to sleep" and not function properly.
An ischial apophysis avulsion is an injury to the sitting bone where the hamstring muscle meets the bony protrusion of the sitting bone or ischial tuberosity. An avulsion is an injury in which movement or injury results in a violent and sudden contraction of the hamstring which pulls a piece of the sitting bone with it. This injury typically affects young athletes, aged 13 to 25 years. Symptoms include ischial tuberosity pain, swelling and pain in the thigh area, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness in the legs. To heal the injury, extended rest and massage are typically in order as well as stretching exercises and gait work.
You're more likely to get a hip flexor injury if you've had one in the past, you don't warm up properly before engaging in athletic activity, your muscles are already tight or stiff, or your muscles are weak from being overused. If, while exercising, you try to do too much at once in too short an amount of time, you can also put yourself at risk for a hip flexor injury.