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!
At the very least, the tension and/or spasm in muscles that cross over the hip and attach onto the pelvis can contribute to imbalance, in terms of how strong and flexible each muscle group is in relation to the others. But muscle imbalance in the hips and the spine may make for pain, limitation and/or posture problems. It can also increase the healing challenge put to you by an existing injury or condition, for example, scoliosis.
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.
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.
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.
How to: Get in a standing position, with one foot about a foot's distance behind the other, hips in line. Your feet should be flat, and your legs should be straight. Cross the back foot behind the front one as you reach your arm on the same side overhead. Return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
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.