Leg lifts can be performed in a variety of ways, with each variation working a different set of muscles. But all leg lifts involve the muscles and tendons of the hip joints, so if you're having pain from leg lifts it could be caused by an unrelated injury or because your form is putting too much stress on your hips. You may want to take a break or reevaluate your form to relieve your symptoms.
One of the most common sources of hip pain is a strain of the hip flexor muscles, the group of muscles in the hip joint that help lift the leg. Runners and other athletes suffer strained hip flexors often because the muscles are not stretched properly before running. Among the exercises often recommended to help stretch those muscles, however, are leg lifts. If the hip pain you feel doing leg lifts is similar to the discomfort you experience when stretching other muscle groups, you may need to simply keep doing leg lifts, but with smaller, more careful movements.
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Types of Leg Lifts
Leg lifts can be done by lying on your back and lifting your legs together, straight in the air, with your lower back still pressed against the floor. Side leg lifts are done by lying on your side with your legs straight and lifting the top leg a few inches until it is even with your hip. Leg lifts can also be done while standing and holding onto the back of a chair while you alternate moving one leg backward and then the other, while keeping them straight the whole time. One other type of leg lift requires you to hang by your arms with your legs off the ground and then lift your legs straight out to form a right angle with your trunk.
When Pain Strikes
If doing any or all of these types of leg lifts cause you pain in your hips focus on your form. If you're using ankle weights, for example, take them off and try doing these exercises without them. You can always add the weights back when you feel better and stronger. If you start to feel hip pain once your legs reach a certain height or angle, you could just be overdoing it and stressing the muscles or tendons. Instead, reduce the degree of lift and see if that relieves your pain. If you're doing standing leg lifts, be careful not to swing your legs back and forth as that can injury your hip muscles.
Seeking Medical Attention
If your hip pain occurs with running or other activities in addition to leg lifts, you should seek medical attention, as it could be bursitis or even a fracture. If you feel hip pain from doing leg lifts, but not other exercises, consider alternative stretches that may put less stress on your hip joint and its muscles. An easy one to try requires you to get down on one knee, with a towel under that knee for comfort, and with your other, front knee bent. Without bending at the waist, lean forward so more body weight is on your front leg. You should start to feel a muscle stretch in the upper thigh of the opposite leg. Hold for about 30 seconds, without straining, and then switch legs.
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.