Our pelvis is our central building block, with the rest of our body extending outwards from here. Our hips, on the lowermost part of our pelvis, provide foundational stability for our legs below and for our trunk, arms, head and neck above.
I’m not sure that our hips need any more or less TLC than every other bit of our bodies but they do have a significant role to play in almost everything that we do. As such, it’s worth us all – obvious hip issues or not – making sure that our hip TLC regime is up to scratch.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint: imagine a tennis ball sitting snugly in a cup, the rim of which sits only a little below the uppermost part of the ball.
Our hips are somewhat similar to another joint, our shoulders. ‘Somewhat’ because when compared to the shoulder, the ball and socket of the hip are both larger, the socket is deeper, there is a lot more soft tissue surrounding the joint and the whole joint is angled in such a way to absorb forces directed upwards into it from the ground.
And where our shoulders are designed for maximum range and movement, our hips have less of this movement but make up for it by being better at bearing and dealing with our weight.
We require our hips to be mobile and flexible so that we can move our legs around, swing a kick, climb steps, step over stiles, sit, squat, run and much more.
We need our hip joints – or rather the muscles and tendons that work on them and the ligaments that bind the ball to the socket – to be strong to drive, absorb and stabilise movements.
And we need our hips to offer the best possible movement control, to allow us to move in the way we want and need to. They can do this via effective nerve firing messages – from muscle to brain and back again – and healthy muscles, which ensures that they can look after both themselves and the rest of our bodies.
Our hips will tend to stiffen, lose strength and work less effectively with age, aided by our tendency to move less; less distance, with less effort and for less time.
Specific problems at the joint surface, with osteoarthritis being the obvious one and small changes to either the ball, socket or bony surfaces around these another, are more likely as we age. They are however by no means a given, being also dependent upon our genes and our accumulated decades of lifestyle.
Most hip problems that I see are not at the actual ball-and-socket joint surfaces but are related to the soft tissue – tendons, ligaments, muscles – that surround and support the joint. There is a lot of this soft tissue present in the hip area – out of necessity, to cope with the heavy-lifting and load-bearing function of the hip joint.
And our hips can appear to be working OK whilst actually be performing below par. This ‘below-par-ness’ can result in jobs which the hip should do instead being delegated to the back, knees, ankles and other body parts. This delegation can force these other body parts to work in a way that they are not designed to, causing problems to develop as a result.
Not only will your hip joints thank you (hip replacements are worth avoiding if possible) but the rest of your body will thank you too!
I’ve drafted in some stickpeople to help explain a few things worth including in any hip TLC plan…
SIDE-TO-SIDE HIP ROLLS:
Sit on the floor, with your weight going down evenly through your sit-bones, or as close to this as you can get.
Keeping your bottom grounded on the floor, roll your knees to one side as far as they will both go, gently using your muscles to push into this movement as much as is comfortable and feeling the stretch in your hips.
Swap steadily from one side to the other, you can also treat each position as a stretch and hold for longer…
FORWARD & BACK HIP STRETCH:
In either standing or kneeling, first drift your hips forward by squeezing your bottom on your backward leg and straightening upwards through your upper body, to find a stretch down the front of the hip of the backward leg.
Follow that?! Now drift your hips backwards and lean your trunk forwards from your hips, straightening your front leg at the knee to find a stretch down the back of this forward leg.
Again you can do this moving forwards and backwards continuously or treat each position as a stretch and hold for longer…
Squats are a great way to boost all around our hips but squats aren’t easy! The movement is pretty similar to lowering yourself down onto a low sofa. The difference is where you would usually just flop and fall onto the sofa (who doesn’t?!) for an effective squat you’re going to lower yourself in a steady and controlled fashion. The key to getting this right? Start small, build up gradually, don’t worry about how low or not you’re getting, simply keep technique good.
Start with feet hip width apart, toes approx facing forward.
Gently push your fingers in your hip creases (the bit where the crease in your skin appears when you raise a leg) to guide your bottom backwards, just a little to start with.
Bend your knees and lean your upper body forward a bit to compensate, keeping a nice straight back and a sticky-out bottom posture. Remember: it’s BOTTOM BACKWARDS and not knees forwards.
Just travel as far down and back as is comfortable, then squeeeeze your bottom muscles to drive you back to the start position.
Don’t like the squat? An easier alternative is the BRIDGE as shown: squeeeze your bottom to raise hips to the ceiling….
IT’S BALANCE TIME:
If you’re likely to wobble too much then stand next to something you can use for just as much help as you need.
Stand super-tall and strong on one leg by squeezing your bottom, your thigh and feeling your weight press evenly downwards through your whole foot and maintain this throughouT…
Raise your floating leg knee and draw a circle with this knee; up, to the side, down and back and back around. Make it as big a circle as you comfortably can. Mix it up by sometimes pausing, sometimes speeding up, straighten at the knee a bit – play around!
Easy? Stand on a just-about-manageable unstable surface while you do this e.g. a cushion.
Why do this? Imagine those one-legged, balance-y movements we often expect our bodies to rise to: a sudden side-step to avoid a loose rock when walking, getting over an awkward stile, jumping over a stream, a high step, a small slip on some ice, a trip over a flagstone… Your movement control and balance-ability probably save you many times a day; we tend to only notice the times when they don’t.