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.
Most back pain is harmless – caused by sleeping in an awkward position, stretched muscles, overexertion, sitting down too long or falling on the ischial tuberosity (the bones of the butt that you sit on), or minor hip injuries caused by twisting a certain way during sports like volleyball. Many injuries arise simply from improper form during exercise, sports injuries, or strains.
The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Sometimes pain on the side of the hip is a result of bursitis. A weak abductor muscle, a leg length discrepancy, overuse, and an underlying early degenerating hip joint can cause bursitis. At times, the origin cannot be determined. Symptoms include pain on the side of the hip with prolonged walking, side lying in bed or when rising from a chair or similar types of movement.
Piriformis syndrome is a type of neurological injury that is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle sits deep within the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the femur muscle. This nerve can become compressed from swelling of the piriformis muscle due to injury or muscle spasms or inflammation. Piriformis syndrome causes symptoms including pain in the back of the thigh, pain in the back of knee, buttock pain, pain in the calf, pain in sciatic nerve branches (pain in the nerves of leg and the buttocks, then), shooting pain in the legs, and hip pain after sitting.
For example, one workout you may want to do lateral lunges with mini-band ankle walks. Another workout you may choose rotational step-ups with the 4-way cable hip exercise. The activation, mobility, and flexibility exercises can be done more frequently and not necessarily as part of a stand-alone workout. There's no one-right way to incorporate these exercises, so don't be afraid to experiment.
There are cases of low back pain that have alarming causes, but it’s rare. Once in a while back pain is a warning sign of cancer, autoimmune disease, infection, or a handful of other scary culprits.7 Over the age of 55, about one in twenty cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous.8 The further you are from 55, the better your odds.
Start on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Your neck should be in line with your back, and your gaze should be down or slightly forward. Brace your core, and raise your left arm and right leg until they’re in line with your body. If that’s too challenging, only raise your leg. Either way, hold for five to 10 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side (right arm and left leg) to complete one rep. Aim for five to seven reps total.
How to do it: With your bar on the floor in front of you, place your feet slightly narrower than hip-width apart. Make sure the bar is as close to your shins as possible, and position your hands on the bar, just outside your shins. With your shins perpendicular to the floor, flex your hamstrings and lift your butt up and back, extending your legs so they’re nearly straight, with only a slight bend in the knee. Slide the bar up and toward the shins. Then, bend your knees slightly and proceed to lift the bar all the way off the floor in a straight line. Extend your hips fully at the top and stand tall with neck relaxed, arms straight. Pinch your shoulder blades together, squeezing your abs and glutes. Keeping the bar close to your body and with a straight back, reverse the movement. That’s one rep.
Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
Quadriceps stretch: Stand at an arm's length away from the wall with your injured side farthest from the wall. Facing straight ahead, brace yourself by keeping one hand against the wall. With your other hand, grasp the ankle on your injured side and pull your heel toward your buttocks. Don't arch or twist your back. Keep your knees together. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
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.
Tight hip flexors occur for a variety of reasons. Those who run frequently or engage in other activities that put strain on the hip flexors are likely to experience hip flexor tightness at one time or another. A blow to the hip or poor conditioning can also be causes of tight hip flexors. These causes can usually be attributed to tiny tears that occur to our hip flexors through rigorous activity.
Often you’ll perform static stretches seated or lying down, and focus on breathing slowly and deeply to facilitate relaxation — sometimes for several minutes at a time. Static stretches can be very effective at loosening you up, but they also inhibit performance in the stretched muscles for a short time afterward. So they’re best reserved for after a workout, or as an anytime stress reliever — just not right before a workout involving the muscles you’re stretching.
Starting in a seated position, place your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Try to have your knees perfectly stacked, one on top of the other, and to have your feet flexed to protect your knees. Both of your sit bones should be pressing into the ground. If this is not possible, then prop your hips up onto a blanket or pillow to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.
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.
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.
So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.
Spartacus is worthwhile, but the sex and violence is over-the-top: there’s no sugar-coating it. Definitely not a family drama. But the dramatic quality is excellent. After a couple of campy, awkward episodes at the start, the first season quickly gets quite good: distinctive film craft, interesting writing, and solid acting from nearly the whole cast. Andy Whitfield’s Spartacus is idealistic, earnest, and easy to like. I found it downright upsetting when I learned that he had passed away — as did many, many other fans I’m sure. See my personal blog for a little bit more of a review of Spartacus. BACK TO TEXT
3. Tendinitis and bursitis Many tendons around the hip connect the muscles to the joint. These tendons can easily become inflamed if you overuse them or participate in strenuous activities. One of the most common causes of tendinitis at the hip joint, especially in runners, is iliotibial band syndrome — the iliotibial band is the thick span of tissue that runs from the outer rim of your pelvis to the outside of your knee.
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disk. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. These disks get weaker as you age and become more vulnerable to injury. Sometimes the gel-like center of a disk pushes through its outer lining and presses on the roots of the sciatic nerve. About 1 in 50 people will get a herniated disk at some point in life. Up to a quarter of them will have symptoms that last more than 6 weeks.
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..
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
If the problem originates in the hip joint itself, common symptoms include groin pain on the affected side, and sometimes down the inner aspect of the thigh in the front of the leg. This pain can move to the knee and sometimes feels like a knee problem instead of a hip problem. Walking worsens the pain and with continued activity, the pain increases. Rest relieves it; however, when hip arthritis becomes severe, you may have pain most of the time. Minimal activity such as slight movements while in bed can worsen the pain. Other conditions such as advanced congenital hip dysplasia or avascular necrosis of the hip can cause these symptoms as well.
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.
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.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to having weak and tight hip flexors as they are always in the shortened position. Tight hip flexors can lead to a limited range of motion, poor posture, lower back and hip pain, and even injuries. These muscles need to get a workout when you are standing and doing movements such as raising your leg to climb stairs, run, or ride a bicycle.