Are you dealing with a strange, unexplainable pain in or around your hips?
Maybe you can't pinpoint exactly where it's coming from, describe quite how it feels or even remember when the discomfort started?
Perhaps it feels like a dull ache, a pinch or an annoying twinge of discomfort during a certain movement?
Congratulations, you've got "weird" hip pain. Whatever it feels like and however it got there, unspecific hip pain is usually frustrating, uncomfortable and unnecessary.
Fortunately, it's also often easy to fix.
Before we get to the point, I would like to give a disclaimer here.
I am not a medical professional and am unqualified to diagnose injury. I am, however, a strength coach with a specialty in rehabilitation and returning athletes to play. And I really like making complicated things simple, like helping athletes get and stay fit.
Assuming you are otherwise healthy and cleared by your physician, allow me to share my rehab protocols with you!
How Do Our Hips Work?
The hips are incredible, versatile joints.
They connect the upper and lower body. They play a primary role in our movement, our locomotion and direction. And they are essentially in charge of taking the load off your back and your knees.
Because the hip is a ball-and-socket joint, they are capable of several types and directions of movement as well: Flexion and Extension (forward movement, such as walking), Abduction and Adduction (lateral movement, such as side-steps or shuffles) and Internal and External Rotation (rotation of the leg at the hip joint, such as crossing one leg over the other while sitting).
Put simply, the hips are very, very important! There's very little in life and sport that DON'T include them. That means that keeping up with hip health is very vital to fitness and performance.
Why Hip Pain Is So Common
So what happens when our hips function less than optimally?
What happens when we sit too much or for too long? Our hips get tight.
What happens when we don't warm up well enough and try to run? Our hips feel stiff.
What happens when we don't have strong glutes and hamstrings? Our hips have to overcompensate for weakness.
Our daily habits and training often include sitting, running or walking straight ahead, and, for athletes, potentially high muscular fatigue in the legs, glutes, and back.
Any of those issues could compromise the range of motion of our hips, decreasing the joint's ability to move through all of it's normal motions. That's a recipe for discomfort.
Relieving Hip Pain
One actionable way to identify and relieve that nagging, unspecific hip pain is to purposefully regain the range of motion of the hips again...in all directions!
The three movements usually responsible for this discomfort are Flexion (think "High Knee"), External Rotation (think "Cross Knees") and Internal Rotation (think "Knees Together, Feet Out").
To restore these movements to their full glory (and their full range of motion, or ROM), let's get into some semi-comfortable positions! This video outlines some of my favorite fixes for weird hip pain:
You'll find more details on each movement below.
The 90/90 Hip
The 90/90 Stretch and its variants are truly king when it comes to restoring rotational ROM.
For the basic 90/90 stretch (:00 mark in above video), start on the floor with heels outside hip width and pinned to the ground, knees slightly bent. From there, flip your knees back and forth, side-to-side against the floor. Optimally, this should create 90-degree angles at the knee on both sides. Try to hit 5 reps per side, then 10.
If this is difficult or painful, lean back against your hands while you complete the motions, or scoot your feet farther away from your body.
Once you've mastered the 90/90 Stretch, the External Rotation Stretch (:04 mark in above video) is simple enough. From the upright position, raise the rear knee off the ground while keeping your front knee flat on the ground. Go for 3-6 reps on each side.
The Internal Rotation Stretch (:09 mark in above video) is a bit more tricky.
From that 90-degree position on the floor, face your entire upper body toward your knee and lean slightly forward at the hip. Support yourself with your hands against the floor on both sides of your leg. Then try to bring your back foot off the ground without moving your body.
This one is hard, so don't be frustrated if it's uncomfortable or impossible at first. Try to push your knees into the ground and hold for 10 seconds, then lift your foot off the ground.
Aim for 3-6 reps here as well. If you need some help with this, check out the Assisted Internal Rotation below.
Now, let's add some more dynamic movement. Meet the 90/90 Shin Box (:13 mark in above video).
Still in that 90-degree position, lift your hips off the ground toward your front foot until you are awkwardly kneeling with one leg under you. That's it. Then sit back down, rotate to the other side, and do it again. Aim for 5 reps per side.
Assisted Internal Rotation
If you're having trouble getting that back foot off the ground in the Internal Rotation Stretch outlined above, that's OK. Internal Rotation is usually the most restricted hip motion and takes the longest to restore. We simply don't think to use it in everyday life!
This is where the Assisted Internal Rotation stretch (:20 mark in above video) can help out.
Grab a foam roller or a yoga block (your fist or something solid will suffice in a pinch) and lay on your side with your hips and shoulder stacked. Bend your top leg so the knee rests securely on the support block. Place your hand on your hip bone, just to be sure it's not overcompensating.
Now try to lift your foot as high as you can without also shifting your hip or losing your position. Only your leg should move, so if your hips start to shift, stop raising your foot and return to a neutral position.
Six to 10 reps per side should suffice.
Let's restore that Flexion & Extension with some Hip Openers (:29 mark in above video).
Get into a lunge position with both legs at a 90-degree angle. Squeeze your glutes and pull your hips beneath you so you feel the front of your hip stretch a bit.
Once this becomes comfortable, maintain that activation and slowly rotate, or "open," your body toward the knee on the floor. Without moving your hips or releasing tension, open them up! About 3-5 reps per side are appropriate here.
Banded Leg Lowers
It should be noted that your back, hamstrings and hips all work together in stabilization and locomotion. This fact is often neglected, even in elite sports performance training!
In this exercise (:40 mark in above video) we tie all of those pieces together.
Place a band around the center of one foot and lay on your back. Raise both legs in the air, so your body creates a 90-degree position. Inhaling deeply, pull against the band of the one foot, keeping that leg as straight as possible. Now slowly lower your other leg down until it is impossible to keep it fully extended anymore. Exhale as you lower the leg. Now bring it back up and do it again.
The entire back should be pinned against the ground through the entire movement. Aim for 6-10 reps per leg here.
Stick With It
In case these instructions truly made no sense, just watch this video with all the exercises demonstrated and follow along best as you can!
Just remember: It takes time to restore motion when it's been restricted for a long time. Adding in strength training and maximizing the posterior chain (back, glutes, and hamstrings) will help to prevent additional discomfort. Give your body some patience, and it will reward you!
Invest some time in restoring range of motion to your hips, and that "weird" hip pain may just disappear.
Photo Credit: spukkato/iStock
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