5 Exercises to Help Manage the Pain of Hip Osteoarthritis

Squats strengthen your quads so they can better support your hips.
Image Credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/GettyImages

Exercise is one of the best tools around for managing the pain associated with hip osteoarthritis. Not only is it effective and largely free from side effects, but it can usually be done from the comfort of your home.

Try the following techniques to help you manage your hip symptoms and improve your daily function.

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Tip

One of the best ways to reduce the pain associated with hip osteoarthritis is to focus on building strength in the muscles that surround the joint.

First, Understand Your Osteoarthritis

Before you begin any exercises for your hip, it's important to have a full understanding of what arthritis actually is.

While there are several different types, the most common is osteoarthritis, which is frequently described as "wear and tear" in the joint, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). While any of the joints in your body can develop osteoarthritis, weight-bearing joints (such as your hip) are more susceptible.

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According to the AAOS, this version of arthritis usually begins in middle age and gets progressively worse as you get older. When it presents in your hips, it's typically associated with pain and stiffness that's worst in the morning and after a lot of activity. It can also make everyday actions like putting on socks or shoes, getting in and out of a car or even walking more difficult.

While anyone can get osteoarthritis, there are several things that can make you more susceptible. People with a family history of osteoarthritis or who have had abnormal growth in their hip joints when they were young (called dysplasia) are more likely to develop this condition, per the Arthritis Foundation. In addition, people who are overweight or obese and those with a previous injury to their hip are at a higher risk.

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Harness the Benefits of Exercise

While the pain associated with osteoarthritis in the hips can be quite debilitating, regular exercise can help. Strengthening exercises that target the muscles surrounding the hip joint can help lend support to the arthritic area, according to the Arthritis Foundation. While these exercises won't make your arthritis disappear, they can help the hip absorb the forces associated with walking or running.

In addition, consistently strengthening the hip muscles can reduce the pain you experience with many daily activities. This seems to be especially true in people who start exercising soon after they begin to feel pain.

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According to a September 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis in the ​Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine​, people with hip osteoarthritis who began regularly exercising saw significant reductions in pain and improved daily function compared to those who didn't after just two months.

To maximize the pain-relieving effects of the exercises described below, an October 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis in ​Osteoarthritis and Cartilage​ found that performing 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each technique two to three times each week is most effective at relieving your hip osteoarthritis pain.

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The Best Exercises for Hip Osteoarthritis

Move 1: Clamshell

Kaiser Permanente recommends the clamshell exercise to people looking to build up strength in their hips. This easy yet effective movement targets a muscle on the outside of the hip called the gluteus medius. This structure helps add stability to your hip and pelvis while you walk.

  1. Lie on your side with your affected hip facing upwards and your legs stacked one on top of the other.
  2. Bend your knees and hips slightly and lightly contract your abdominal muscles.
  3. Keep your feet touching each other and open your top knee as high as you can like a clam opening its mouth. Do not allow your pelvis to rock backward as you do this.
  4. Hold the open position for 1 to 2 seconds before returning to the starting point.

Tip

If this exercise is too easy, a resistance band can be tied around your knees to increase the challenge.

Move 2: Bridge

The gluteus maximus (buttocks) muscle protects and supports the back or posterior portion of your hip. It also helps you perform common activities like getting up from sitting and going up the stairs. If you are dealing with osteoarthritis in your hips, Versus Arthritis suggests trying a glute bridge to add strength to this important area.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degree angles and your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor.

  2. Contract your abdominal muscles without holding your breath.

  3. Lift your buttocks and lower back in the air as high as you are able to without losing your stomach squeeze.

  4. Hold this position for 5 seconds before lowering your body back to the ground again.

Tip

If this exercise is not hard enough, try placing a light dumbbell on your waist as you perform the bridge or increasing the amount of time you hold your body in the air.

Move 3: Squat

Another simple way to strengthen the muscles surrounding a painful, arthritic hip is the mini squat. As Kaiser Permanente notes, this variation of a squat is an easy way to build up the quadriceps muscle in the front of your thighs.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart facing the back of a kitchen chair.
  2. With your hands resting lightly on the chair's back, sit your buttocks backwards as you allow your knees to bend. Make sure your knees do not go beyond the end of your toes.
  3. When your knees flex to a 45 degree angle, hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and then stand up straight again.
  4. If the mini squats are painful, perform the exercise with a shallower knee bend so it's more comfortable.

Tip

To add intensity, try performing a deeper squat or wearing a backpack with a few books in it to add some weight.

Move 4: Side-Leg Raise

Another fantastic way to strengthen your outside or hip abductor muscles is the side-leg raise. Targeting this muscle group can help make tasks like getting in and out of the car easier and less painful if you have hip osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

  1. Stand with a counter at your side and your feet hip-width apart. Your toes should be pointing forward and you can use a light touch on the surface as needed for balance.
  2. Squeeze your stomach muscles and move your outside leg away from your body. As you do this, do not allow your torso to lean towards the counter.
  3. When you cannot move the leg any further to the side, hold the position for a second or two before returning it to the ground.
  4. Complete the exercise on both legs.

Tip

A light resistance band can be secured around both ankles to add difficulty.

Move 5: Good Morning

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) suggests that people who are dealing with hip soreness try the good morning exercise. This technique, which also focuses on the gluteus maximus muscle, can help stave off pain and reduce the likelihood that a hip replacement surgery is needed.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms resting by your side. Begin by squeezing the ab muscles in your stomach.

  2. Keeping a natural arch in your low back and your knees slightly bent, hinge forward at your waist as you bow your torso toward the ground.

  3. When you have bent forward as far as you can without rounding your low back, squeeze your butt muscles as you return to the starting position.

  4. To make the good mornings more challenging, try holding a kettle bell in both hands and allowing it to dangle toward the floor beneath your torso as you make the motion.

Don't Forget Cardio

Strengthening the muscles that support your hip is essential to maintaining mobility. But it's also important to continue with gentle cardio workouts, according to Kaiser Permanente.

Cycling and swimming are both smart options for people with hip arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends starting with 10 minutes and progressing from there, eventually building up to swimming or biking for 30 minutes a day, per Kaiser Permanente.

If you're thinking about purchasing a bike or using one at the gym, consider going with a recumbent bike, which puts less pressure on your hips than an upright one, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And look for a cushioned seat for added comfort.

Warning

Depending on the location of the osteoarthritis in your hip joint, certain movements may increase your discomfort. Be sure to stop any exercise that causes sharp pain and consult your physician if you have any questions.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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