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.
Treatment for arthritis focuses on relieving symptoms and improving mobility. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications and/or pain relievers. They might also prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — drugs meant to slow or stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to strengthen your joints and increase your range of motion. For more severe cases, surgery may be required.
You’d think so. But consider this story of a motorcycle accident: many years ago, a friend hit a car that had pulled out from a side street. He flew over the car & landed on his head. Bystanders showed their ignorance of spinal fracture by, yikes, carelessly moving him. In fact, his thoracic spine was significantly fractured … yet the hospital actually refused to do an X-ray because he had no obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture. Incredible! The next day, a horrified orthopedic surgeon ordered an X-ray immediately, confirming the fracture & quite possibly saved him from paralysis.
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.
The hips are the cornerstone of every runner’s body. Comprising an array of muscle groups—from the all-powerful glutes to the smaller hip flexors and adductors—your hips propel every stride, stabilize the thighs, and (quite literally) keep the knee on the right track, physical therapist John Sauer, D.P.T., O.C.S., an endurance program manager with Athletico Physical Therapy, tells SELF.
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.
Endometriosis (when the uterus lining grows somewhere else) can cause pelvic tenderness, which some women describe as hip pain. Pain from the back and spine also can be felt around the buttocks and hip, Siegrist says. Sciatica, a pinched nerve, typically affects one side of the body and can cause pain in the back of the right or left hip — the pain from sciatica can start in your lower back and travel down to your buttocks and legs.
A herniated disc in the back cancause sciatic like symptoms of pain that radiates from the lower back and down into the legs and calves. It can also cause pain in the butt and tail of the spine and can cause pain running down the legs and numbness in one leg. Typical symptoms include feelings of muscle weakness in the legs, sciatic nerve pain, pain in the back leg muscles, tingling in the nerves of the leg, and pain behind the knees. Treatments include ice and heat therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, exercise, physical therapy, steroids to decrease inflammation, and sometimes surgery.
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.
Luckily, you don’t have to quit your day job or forgo spin class to loosen them up. Simply stretching those hips can get your body back in alignment, increase your mobility (and thus your exercise performance) and maybe even ease pesky back pain, Moore says. “Given the amount of time we sit [each] day and the stress we put our bodies under, hip-opening moves are a necessary party of our daily routine.”
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..
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift one foot a couple of inches off the floor. Then put it down and lift the other foot a couple of inches, all while remembering to breathe. “It’s like taking alternate steps,” Pariser says. Work up to doing 30 steps at a time.
Why is back pain still a huge problem? Maybe this: “It is extremely difficult to alter the potentially disabling belief among the lay public that low back pain has a structural mechanical cause. An important reason for this is that this belief continues to be regularly reinforced by the conditions of care of a range of ‘hands-on’ providers, for whom idiosyncratic variations of that view are fundamental to their professional existence.”
These issues tend to be more rampant in women because they generally have wider pelvises than men, Ali Kotek, M.A., A.T.C., P.E.S., a performance enhancement specialist and fellow endurance program manager at Athletico, tells SELF. So to keep the thighs vertical, rather than angled in toward each other, the outer hips have to be even stronger. That’s especially true for women who are bounding from one foot to the other as they run down trails and treadmill belts.
Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips. Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or back from!) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose long-term, and not only make you a better runner, but make running feel better to you.
Sherwin is a Medical Research Scientist and Author of the Low Back Pain Program and eBook. With over 20 years of Research experience from The Toronto General Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, he provides sensible, effective, advice and solutions for lower back pain. His eBook has helped thousands of sufferers overcome chronic back pain through safe, targeted exercise and stretching techniques.
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.
There are thousands of low back pain books — what’s special about this one? The problem is that 90% of doctors and therapists assume that back pain is structural, in spite of mountains of scientific evidence showing … exactly the opposite. Only a few medical experts understand this, and fewer still are writing for patients and therapists. Supported by 462 footnotes, this tutorial is the most credible and clarifying low back pain information you can find. Ships with a free copy of PainScience.com’s trigger point tutorial! Buy it now for $19.95 or read the first few sections for free!
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.