Hip osteoarthritis pain and stiffness can make simple tasks like sitting down in a chair or bending over to put on your shoes more difficult. It's one of the main reasons more than 370,000 people get hip replacement surgery each year, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
Fortunately, hip arthritis exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, such as your glutes, can make a big difference in managing your symptoms and preventing the need for surgery.
Below are five hip exercises for arthritis from Grayson Wickham PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault. They're a mix of strength moves and stretches — both of which are needed for joint health.
Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you feel any pain during exercise, stop doing the exercise altogether, says Danine Fruge, MD, medical director at Pritikin Longevity Center.
“It is always wise to listen to your body and stop, modify the activity or decrease the amount of exercise if you have increased pain during or after exercise, [as this] can indicate more inflammation and wear and tear and lead to more joint degeneration.”
1. Full Range of Motion Hip Activation
This hip exercise not only strengthens all the muscles around your hip but also improves range of motion and flexibility. Known as hip CARs (controlled articular rotations), this move gets nutrient-rich synovial fluid moving in your joint to help reduce pain.
- Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. This is the starting position.
- Keeping the rest of your body still, bring one knee up toward your elbow (as far as you can comfortably go without pain).
- Next, bring it out to the side so your knee is parallel to the ground.
- Now bring your knee back behind you, rotating it so the knee remains bent and the foot is up toward the ceiling.
- Bring the knee back down to the starting position.
- Go as far as you can go with each motion, but keep it in your pain-free range.
- Do 3 circles in one direction, then 3 three in the other direction.
If you have difficulty getting on all fours, you can also perform a standing CAR exercise to improve hip mobility.
2. Isometric Hamstring Stretch
This exercise is an active stretch, meaning it first stretches the muscles around your hips, then actively contracts the same muscles, Wickham says.
"This helps you improve your strength and stability in the end range of motion of your hip. Your end range of motion of these hip muscles is usually the weakest and most unstable range of motion in your hip."
- Start by kneeling on a mat and place your right leg in front. You can place a pillow under your left knee if you need more support.
- Bend over and place both hands to the left of your right foot.
- Slowly lean back as you straighten your right leg, keeping your heel on the ground.
- Lean back to the point where you feel a stretch along your hamstring (back of your leg. Stop if you feel any sharp pain. Keep this stretch within your pain-free range.
- Next, push your heel into the ground. This is the active part of the stretch.
- Hold this position and push your heel into the ground for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat 5 times, then switch legs.
“While stretching with arthritis, you always want to listen to your body when performing your stretches," Wickham says. "You never want to stretch into a painful range of motion."
3. Glute Bridge With Resistance Band
- Lie on your back and loop a mini resistance band just above your knees. Place your feet flat on the floor.
- Push your knees out to the sides until you feel tension from the band.
- Maintain this tension as you lift your butt off the ground and toward the ceiling. Your body should form a diagonal line from the top of your knees to your shoulders.
- Squeeze your butt at the top and hold for 3 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position.
- Do 2 sets of 15 reps.
The squat is one of the best exercises for hip arthritis for a reason: It strengthens all of your lower-body muscles, especially your glutes and quads, which support the joint. It also makes things like getting in and out of a chair or going up the stairs easier.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a chair or table in front of you for support, if needed. Your toes can be pointed forward or slightly turned out.
- Keeping your heels on the ground, push your hips back (like you're sitting in a chair), bend your knees and lower down only as far as you can comfortably go without pain. Make sure to keep your chest up and your back straight.
- Do 2 sets of 15 reps.
5. Standing Hip Abduction
This exercise targets your hip abductor muscles (particularly the tensor fascia latae), which help make activities like getting in and out of the car much easier, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
- Stand in front of a chair, holding onto it for support.
- Slightly rotate your toes out and lift one leg up and out. Don’t move it straight out to the side, but out at an angle.
- Repeat 2 sets of 20 reps, then switch sides.
If this feels too easy, tie a resistance band around the chair and place it around your ankle.
More Tips for Managing Hip Arthritis
In addition to hip arthritis exercises focusing on strengthening and flexibility, adding in regular cardio is also beneficial in managing this condition. The best cardio for someone with hip arthritis depends on the severity of their condition.
"If you have a very low level of arthritis, a light jog on a soft surface, such as grass can be a great cardio exercise," Wickham says. "As someone's arthritis gets more severe, they will want to limit cardio that involves impact, as well as any type of explosive movements."
Some examples of low-impact cardio exercises include swimming and using an elliptical machine, rowing machine, or indoor bike. Tai chi is also a good choice for hip arthritis exercises because it helps improve strength, flexibility and balance while relieving stress, according to a January 2020 article in Arthritis and Rheumatology.
But the most important thing is to stick to exercises that you actually enjoy doing. "Exercise should leave you feeling better overall: stronger, more flexible, more balanced, more energy, and improved mood," Dr. Fruge says.
In addition, the Arthritis Foundation recommends maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight puts additional stress on your hip joints and contributes to pain and lack of mobility.
Lastly, Dr. Fruge says one of the best hip pain reliefs can be found right in your freezer.
"Ice is an underutilized and under-appreciated treatment for arthritis. Icing an arthritic joint for 15 minutes after exercise routinely can decrease pain. Even if it does not hurt at the time, preventative icing can decrease inflammation and swelling."
Benefits of Exercise for Managing Hip Arthritis
"Personalized exercise can be beneficial for hip arthritis by increasing muscle strength for joint stability, increasing flexibility for a better range of motion, and decreasing weight and body fat, which decreases inflammation and pressure on the joint," Dr. Fruge says.
Case in point: A small January 2017 study in the Journal of Osteoporosis found that women 65 and older who performed hip exercises for arthritis three times a week had 30-percent less hip pain and 20-percent improved range of motion and strength after 12 weeks.
In addition to strengthening your muscles and improving flexibility, exercise helps with hip arthritis by moving the nutrient-rich synovial fluid in your joint, Wickham says.
"The synovial fluid contains all of the nutrients that your joint needs to maintain healthy cartilage and tissues. The main way that this joint synovial fluid is moved and distributed to different areas of the cartilage located within your joint is by movement."
Exercise can also help ease hip pain by sending signals to your brain and nervous system that your joint isn't in danger, which is one of your body's main mechanisms for producing a pain signal, Wickham says.
"Having weak hip muscles on top of having hip arthritis usually exacerbates hip pain and decreases the function of the hip. A stronger hip will be a more resilient hip."
Additional reporting by Tim Petrie
- Journal of Osteoporosis: "Exercise Training in Treatment and Rehabilitation of Hip Osteoarthritis: A 12-Week Pilot Trial"
- Arthritis and Rheumatology: "2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Lower Body Strength Exercises"
- American Association of Retired Persons: "4 Hip Exercises to Improve Your Muscles"