Many favorite summer pastimes come with the bonus of strengthening your hips.
Strengthening your hip flexors is one of the best things you can do to relieve hip pain and provide support to achy joints, especially if you suffer from osteoarthritis. The primary hip flexors consist of three main muscles that function to bend at the hip joint: the iliacus that runs from the top of the pelvis to the top of the femur or thigh bone; the psoas major which connects the upper body to the lower body; and rectus femoris, which has a role in flexing the hip and extending the knee. Together, this vital group of muscles aids us in walking, climbing stairs and standing upright.
The stronger these muscles, the more support and stability they provide to the hip joint which can lessen pain. Luckily, many of the exercises you enjoy doing in the warmer weather are also excellent hip conditioners:
Hip flexors are activated during swimming; every time you kick your feet those muscles go to work. The water provides a natural, low-impact form of resistance that allows you to boost your range of motion while taking the weight off your body and reducing strain to the hips. You can start slow and gently by paddling in the shallow end and work your way up to more intense exercise such as swimming laps.
Planting and weeding means lots of bending, and a great opportunity to practice hip-hinging – maintaining a straight, neutral spine and reaching downward by hinging at the hips rather than bending at the waist. Hip hinging is common practice in many cultures, and it has been linked to less lower back pain. When we bend our backs into the shape of a cashew to pick something up, this motion puts pressure on the joints of the spine and the cushioning between the vertebrae, which are not designed for lots of motion. Conversely, hip hinging protects the back, activates and stretches the hip muscles and can ease hip discomfort.
Like swimming, bicycling is a great low-impact exercise that provides a full core workout, promoting balance, stability and stamina that can guard against falls and further injury. The constant pedaling motion also helps to lubricate the hips and knees and keeps them mobile. If upright bikes are too uncomfortable, recumbent models let you sit in a reclining position and still reap the benefits of building strength and mobility.
After all this exercise, just remember to stretch your hip flexors – you can accomplish this in various positions such as standing on one leg bracing one hand against a wall and using the other hand to gently guide your heel to your butt. You can also lie flat on a matt with knees bent – then place the ankle of one leg over the top of the knee of the other and slowly elevate your supporting leg toward your chest for a deep gluteal/hip stretch.
It’s always a good idea to consult with your physician before starting a new activity, especially if you experience joint pain. Consulting with an orthopedic surgeon can help you find solutions and treatments to manage the condition and control your pain.
Dr. Isaac Livshetz is a fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint replacement of the hip and knee, including complicated initial joint replacements as well as revision surgery. To schedule an appointment in White Plains/Harrison or New Rochelle, please call 914-946-1010.