When you hear the words “hip injury,” you might think of the time your grandmother fractured hers from a fall. Or of the hip-replacement surgery your hockey-playing friend is facing after decades of body checks.
But hip injuries can have much less dramatic causes: a weekend warrior overdoing it playing soccer; life-long posture imbalances; even walking can take its toll on this ball-and-socket joint. According to various medical research, it’s estimated the hip feels the force of between one and a half to five times your body weight with each step you take. (Given this fact, it’s not surprising that for joint protection, medical organizations, such as Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic, recommend weight loss for those carrying extra pounds.)
In addition to injury to the hip joint itself, issues with the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the joint can cause pain on the outside of the hip, upper thigh or outer buttock.
“The hip is designed to be a very mobile joint, with arguably the second greatest range of motion (ROM) next to the shoulder,” says Matt Lumsdaine, a Certified Athletic Therapist and exercise physiologist at Camosun College’s Athletic & Exercise Therapy (AET) Clinic in Victoria.
“We have to be able to use and control that ROM no matter the given task. If we don’t have range with control, we’re liable to create ‘faulty’ movement and compensation patterns that over time can put us at risk for injury.”
Fortunately, there are simple things we can do to help keep our hips flexible and injury-free.
Move it or lose it
“We just don’t do enough with our hips,” says Lumsdaine, citing the number-one reason, in his opinion, for injury in this region. To help his patients gain more range and capacity, he frequently prescribes controlled active range of motion exercises called Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs), developed by Toronto chiropractor Dr. Andreo A. Spina, which, for the hip, involves moving it at its upper, outermost range while tensing the body.
A sample CARs hip exercise? Take a hands-and-knees position on the floor, engage your core and then rotate your hip by “drawing” large circles with the knee (alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise). Note: Consult your family physician or an athletic therapist before to starting a new exercise.
Change it up
Lumsdaine says it’s also important to exercise on various planes of motion, such as moving front to back, side to side and rotational. “We’re so focused on sitting, squatting, walking and climbing that we far too often ignore the others,” he says. According to Lumsdaine, this is dangerous because it can lead us to over-working certain muscles, and then when we do a different movement than we’re used to, and our hips aren’t prepared for it, we’re susceptible to injury.
Load it on
You can further help your hips with load-bearing activities like walking, running, jumping or using weights and resistance. These practices help build the resiliency of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and tissues, says Lumsdaine.
It’s not just your hips
Caring for your hips also means paying attention to the joints above and below. According to the joint-by-joint approach proposed by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, a healthy hip needs freedom and range, but the knee and lower back require stability. “If any joints are lacking in their respective functions, they will lean on and rely on their neighbour,” explains Lumsdaine. This compensation can result in injury to the neighbouring joint.
Stretch it out
To help release tension and increase mobility in the hips, Lumsdaine advises doing dynamic stretching before an activity and passive stretching afterward, whether using foam rollers or through manual therapy from an athletic therapist.
While practicing preventive strategies is essential, it’s also important to recognize when something is wrong and you need professional help, whether that be a doctor or an athletic therapist. “Don’t let things get too far before they can’t be reversed,” advises Lumsdaine.
Try out these tips to help your hips take you where you want to go.
Matt Lumsdaine is a Certified Athletic Therapist and Certified Exercise Physiologist at Camosun College’s Athletic & Exercise Therapy (AET) Clinic in Victoria. After completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Biopsychology and Kinesiology at the University of Victoria, he was one of the first cohorts to graduate from Camosun College’s Bachelor of Athletic and Exercise Therapy program. Matt has worked with BC Games, Rugby Canada, Hockey Canada and FIFA Women’s World Cup.