There are a host of conditions that can cause hip pain. Some typically get better with time — such as tendinitis or bursitis — while some tend to progressively get worse — such as osteoarthritis. The good news is that regardless of the cause of your pain, you can still be active. However, there are certain exercises you should avoid that could make your hip pain worse.
If you have hip pain, avoid exercises that are performed in a standing position. Substitute with recumbent exercise machines or activities such as swimming that reduce pressure through your painful joints.
Avoid Weight-Bearing Exercise
Despite the underlying cause of your hip pain, there's one thing that most conditions have in common — pain increases when you're bearing weight, or standing on your affected leg. This can pose a significant problem when choosing appropriate forms of exercise.
While it might be obvious that running should be avoided with hip pain, there are also several other cardio exercise machines that require weight-bearing. Treadmills, ellipticals and stair-climbing machines are all used in a standing position. Upright cycling can also increase pain. Although you aren't in a standing position, a significant amount of weight is put through your hip joints while you balance on the seat. Avoid these exercises until your hip pain has subsided.
Although there are several hip pain exercises to avoid, it doesn't mean you can't do cardio. In fact, there are several different options that are gentler on your joints. Swimming can improve your endurance while also toning muscles in your arms and legs. Because the water reduces the amount of body weight transferred through your painful hips, you can also walk laps in the shallow end or eliminate weight-bearing altogether with deep water jogging.
Recumbent steppers and bikes allow you the benefit of burning calories and strengthening leg muscles without added pressure through your hips. Although you are still in a sitting position, your muscles do not have to work as hard to maintain your posture and balance when compared to upright bikes and steppers.
In addition, there are specific hip bursitis exercises to avoid. Bursa sacs are small cushions throughout the body that help reduce friction between bones and other tissues. Inflammation of the outer hip bursae, called trochanteric bursitis, can cause hip pain. In addition to weight-bearing activities, pain from this condition also increases when standing up after being seated for a bit of time, squatting and lying directly on the affected side. Hip pain exercises to avoid include squats and leg lifts that require you to lie on your painful side.
Stretches for Hip Pain
While you are waiting for your hip pain to improve, there are additional exercises, such as stretches, that can help improve flexibility and mobility. Do not stretch to the point of pain — this can indicate further tissue damage. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg.
1. Hip Flexor Stretch
The hip flexor stretch reduces tightness in the front of the hip, which is a common problem — especially if you sit a lot during the day.
- Stand with your feet staggered in a lunge position.
- Bend both knees and drop your back knee to the ground.
- Keeping your chest up, shift your weight forward over the front leg until you feel a stretch along the front of the back leg.
- Switch foot positions and repeat on the opposite leg.
2. Stretch the Hamstrings
Stretch the back of your hip with the seated hamstring stretch.
- Sit with your affected leg straight out in front of you.
- Bend the opposite knee and rest the sole of your foot on your inner thigh.
- Keeping your back flat, hinge forward at your hips until you feel a stretch along the back of your thigh.
- Repeat on the other leg.
3. Butterfly Stretch
Tightness in the adductors, or muscles on the inner thigh, can contribute to hip pain. Target these muscles with the butterfly stretch.
- Sit up straight on a firm surface.
- Bend both knees and put the soles of your feet together.
- Keeping your chest up, gently press down on your knees with your hands until you feel a stretch in your groin.
Increase the intensity of the butterfly stretch by bringing your feet in closer to your body.
Tightness in your glutes, or the muscles in your buttocks, can contribute to hip pain and stiffness. Perform the knee-to-chest exercise to stretch these muscles.
- Lie on your back on a firm surface.
- Bend one knee and bring it in toward your chest.
- Wrap your hands around your knee and gently pull it closer until you feel a stretch in your buttock.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
If you have knee pain, place your hands under your knee when performing the knee-to-chest stretch.
5. Seated Rotation Stretch
The seated rotation stretch also targets hip muscles deep in your buttocks.
- Sit on a firm surface with your legs out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and cross it over your left leg.
- Place your right foot on the ground, outside your left knee.
- Twist your upper body to the right and look over your shoulder.
- Press your right elbow against your right knee to increase the amount of stretch. You should feel pulling in your right buttock.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Seek Medical Attention
Hip pain can be caused by many different soft tissue injuries, bone damage, joint disease or even conditions affecting the reproductive system. The key to choosing safe exercises with hip pain is an accurate diagnosis of the underlying issue causing your pain. Some conditions, such as osteoarthritis, are diagnosed with an X-ray. See a doctor to determine the source of your hip pain.
Consult a physical therapist for a specialized exercise program based on your specific diagnosis. Performing the wrong exercises can lead to increased pain or injury. Physical therapists also have additional skills in manual therapy and treatments, such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation and cold laser, that can help speed healing in your hip.
- American Family Physician: "Evaluation of the Patient With Hip Pain"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Hip Bursitis"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Hip Conditioning Program"
- Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: "Stretching Exercises for Your Hip and Knees"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "Rehabilitation of Soft Tissue Injuries of the Hip and Pelvis"