Deanna is an ACE® certified personal trainer, Balanced Body® Pilates instructor, and NASM® Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is passionate about inspiring others to lead a healthier lifestyle through fun workouts and healthy food. When she’s not creating new workouts and recipes for her blog The Live Fit Girls she enjoys running with her two dogs and traveling.
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.
Although some of us are familiar with a pinched nerve, which is associated with sciatic-like pain in the leg, irritation or inflammation of nerves in the low back region can also cause a sensation in the upper leg or hip region. It is important to realize there are many things that can go wrong in the spine. Remember, sciatica is not a diagnosis but, instead, a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to feel back-related pain in the hip region and upper leg as well. It depends on the nerves involved and ultimately the actual diagnosis. Back pain or hip pain is not a diagnosis but simply an explanation of the area of pain. Symptoms are correlated with physical examination and confirmed through x-rays and similar tests.
Your hip flexors and psoas muscles help drive your legs up when you are running. To stretch these muscles, kneel on the floor and then step out forward with your left leg so that your left foot is on the floor. With your back straight, lean forward so that your weight is on the front foot and you feel a stretch in the hip of the back leg. Perform the stretch on both sides.
• Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. Although rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, hands, wrists, feet, elbows and ankles, it can also affect the facet joints in the spine, causing pain and, in severe cases, destruction of the joints. This may allow the upper vertebra to slide forward on top of the lower vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis. The slipped vertebra may put pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots where they exit the spine.
Of course, you know what it feels like to have a tight muscle. But tight hips aren't just uncomfortable—they can lead to all sorts of other aches and pains, especially in the lower back. "People focus on the hips and say their hips are tight, but we don't always think about the fact that the lower back connects to our legs at the hip," Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate, "and this can be a setup for lower-back injury," Teo Mendez, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NY Orthopedics who focuses on operative and non-operative management of sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis, tells SELF.
The same lack of correct breathing also perpetuates a diastasis. Without proper deep breathing, you can compensate a couple ways. The first is to draw in your belly button and go into a shallow breathing pattern and the second is to have belly only expansion. Both of these can hinder diastasis healing. The cool thing is that I’ve actually had women experience spontaneous firming of their diastasis when we get down a correct breathing pattern. It’s a phenomena that always amazes me. The same thing can happen with decreasing prolapse symptoms.
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.
The hip is a common site of osteoarthritis. To help protect the hip joint from "wear and tear," it is important to strengthen the muscles that support it. Your hip also controls the position of your knee, and strengthening your hips may be one component of your rehab program for knee pain. Your physical therapist may also prescribe hip exercises after total hip replacement if you have a hip labrum tear or as part of your hip exercise program for hip pain.
Kneel with a wall or pillar behind you, knees hips-width apart and toes touching the wall. Arch your back to lean back while keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Take your arms overhead and touch your palms into the wall behind you. This bend does not need to be extremely deep to feel a great stretch in the hips and strength in the lower back.
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:
This pose is one of the most comfy ones for the lower back and hips. It will also stretch your neck, shoulders, and chest. Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Breathe in deeply, and then exhale completely, lowering both legs to the floor on your left (keep your knees higher than your hips). Position your arms out to your sides, or place your left forearm on your right thigh (as pictured) to encourage a deep stretch, relaxing both shoulders to the floor. Shift your gaze over your right shoulder. Close your eyes, take 10 deep breaths, and then release. Repeat to your other side.
How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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“As a result, they’re at greater risk of injury,” says physical therapist Ioonna Félix, clinical supervisor at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center in New York City. Many times, those injuries manifest themselves in ways that seem entirely separate from your hips, like IT band issues, low-back pain, or plantar fasciitis.
The sacroiliac joint connects the lower spine to the pelvis and any injury or strain to this area can cause a lot of back, hip, groin, and sciatic pain. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SJD) can cause not only radiating lower back pain but can also severe pain in the hip area including hip pain at night when sleeping and hip pain when sitting. Often the pain resembles that of a hip injury it is so severe. SJD can also cause severe pain in the groin area. Women may also notice pain running along the distribution of the sciatic nerve. Treatment for sacroiliac joint dysfunction includes rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sciatic nerve massage.
Keep it a one joint stretch. Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee. This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch. They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
Kidneys — The kidneys are a matched pair. One painful kidney can cause back pain on one side or the other. Kidney pain can feel like back pain, and may occur on only one side. It is usually quite lateral, and just barely low enough to qualify as “low” back pain. However, when kidney stones descend through the ureters, they can cause (terrible) pain in the low back. Kidney stone pain is often so severe and develops so rapidly that it isn’t mistaken for a back pain problem.
When you tell your doctor your hip hurts, the first thing she should do is confirm that your hip is actually the problem. Women might say they have hip pain, but what they may mean is that they have pain in the side of the upper thigh or upper buttock, or they may be experiencing lower back pain, says Stephanie E. Siegrist, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Rochester, New York, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hip pain is often felt in the groin or on the outside of the hip directly over where the hip joint (a ball-and-socket joint) is located.
How to: Lie on your back with your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor (a). Extend your left leg up to the ceiling and wrap a strap around the sole of your left foot (b). While holding both ends with your left hand, extend your right arm directly out to the side in order to anchor yourself (c). Slowly let the left leg fall toward the left while keeping your right side grounded. Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
• Sciatica. This is inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower part of the spinal cord, through the buttock and down the back of the leg to the foot. The most common causes of sciatica include compression of the nerve where it exists the spine by a herniated disc, or a rupture of one of the structures that cushions the vertebrae in the spine. Sciatica may be felt as a sharp or burning pain that radiates from the hip. It may also be accompanied by low back pain.
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.
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.