Why is hip mobility important? What are the benefits of hip mobility?
Hip mobility is important because your hips are at the center of your body and all movement that transfers from your upper body to your lower body moves through your hips. If you have poor hip mobility, then movements like running, squatting, and rotating will not be performed well and could ultimately lead to injury.
So, to keep you injury free, let’s talk about some of the most common forms of pain and how the hips actually influence the pain.
Helps relieve back pain
Low back pain is probably the most common complaint that there is on the planet. In my many years of training men and women, I have heard complaints of low back pain from pretty much everyone.
Oftentimes, the low back is not really the problem, it can actually be a problem with your hips! To understand this, we have to look at how the low back works and what it is connected to.
Now, obviously, the low back could be the problem area as a result of poor posture or some kind of traumatic injury to the vertebrae, but, in many cases, it is the poor hip mobility that puts the low back in a bad position which causes the low back to experience pain.
Let’s think about an example: Let’s say that you cock your hip out to one side when you stand in a resting position. Just about everyone does this and in small doses it’s harmless. However, over a long period of time and many years of leaning on one side, your hips can become tilted. This tilt will inevitably cause your spine to tilt which is something that it should not be doing in any kind of permanent way.
Another common hip mobility issue that causes low back pain is the anterior pelvic tilt. This is when your hips are tilted forward and your butt is stuck out further than it should be. When your hips are tilted in this position, it causes your low back to be hyperextended which can put pressure on the nerves and the vertebrae. Another common problem when you have anterior pelvic tilt is muscle cramps in your low back. The reason for this is that the low back muscles are constantly flexed and shortened in this position which causes them to be unnaturally tight and will lead them to cramp.
In both of these instances, the hips are essentially stuck in a bad position which is causing the low back to experience pain. By increasing the mobility of the hips, you allow them to return to a natural resting position which allows the low back to rest in a natural position.
Helps relieve knee pain
The next common area of complaint that people talk about is the knees. The knees are such a vulnerable joint because they rest between the hips and the ankles which are two hyper-mobile joints. The knees themselves really have no reason to be in pain aside from traumatic injuries to the joint specifically. People often say “my knee muscles need to be stronger” or ” I pulled a muscle in my knee.” There are no knee muscles. The knee only has connective tissue that holds the lower leg to the upper leg.
So, when people say that they have knee pain, a really good place to look to try and figure out what is wrong is the hips.
Let’s look at this picture and see if we can make some sense of this.
As you can see, we have some lateral tilt in the hip. Now, just as that lateral tilt can put the back in a bad position, it also puts the knee in a bad position as well.
The knee is supposed to move in a nice straight line with the upper and lower leg. You can think of it moving like a train on a train track. If the track is straight, the train moves along nicely with no problem at all. However, if the track is bent, even slightly, the wheel of the train will grind against the track and eventually wear out.
The same is true of the knee. Take note of how the left leg on that skeleton is rotated inward. If you were to bend that leg, would it be bending in a straight line or a slightly diagonal inward line? The answer is slightly diagonal and inward. Just as a train will grind against a bent track, the knees will grind against your upper and lower legs as they bend improperly. This grinding may go unnoticed for quite a while, but it will eventually show up as pain in the knees because the connective tissue is just too worn down to do its job properly.
If you improve the hip mobility and correct that lateral tilt, you will straighten out that leg, the knee will move in a straight line once again which will relieve the connective tissue, and your knee pain will eventually subside.
Improves your leg strength
The last thing that you may think of when you think of hip mobility is improved leg strength. However, improved leg strength is a major side effect of improving hip mobility.
Well, again, it all comes back to how the hips are positioned. If you think about a squat, your butt drops down in a straight line (hopefully) and returns to a standing position in a straight line. But, as we have seen in the sections above, hips that are tilted one way or another cause issues with movement.
Take for example this picture:
You can see as this woman is squatting down, her left hip is significantly higher than her right hip. If you look downstream a little more at her legs, you will see that her left leg is a little more upright than her right leg. This woman is essentially squatting down on her left leg, the hip is not in a good position to hold itself up.
How do you think this woman’s leg development will turn out as she continues to do leg exercises?
The answer is that her left leg will gain strength faster than her right leg which will just make the problem worse. What will likely happen years down the road is that her left leg will develop an overuse injury because, in all of these squatting movements, it is supporting most of her weight because of the tilt that is in her hips.
Now, this is partially a strength issue, but also a mobility issue. Her hips could be weak or they could be too immobile to even out and descend properly. It would take some testing to find out for sure.
One thing is for certain though: if you want to have better leg development, your hips have to be equally mobile, or else you will cater your movements to one side which will lead to asymmetric strength gains and eventually an overuse injury.
Top 3 hip stretches
Now that we have talked about the benefits of hip mobility and how hip mobility (or lack there of) can cause injuries, let’s talk about the best 3 stretches to get those hips to move around better.
The 90/90 stretch is meant to help stretch the outside of your hips and work on something called external rotation. If you remember, when the hip tilts down one way, it causes the knee to rotate inward. This stretch forces the leg to rotate outward which will help to correct the inward rotation and hopefully put the hip back in a good position.
Put yourself in a seated position on the floor where one leg is bent to 90 degrees in front of you and the other is bent 90 degrees at your side.
Now, keeping your torse nice and tall, lean over the front leg and look to feel a stretch in the outer hip of the leading leg.
Hold this position for 1 minute, rest, and repeat two more times. Switch legs and repeat.
The lizard pose is a common yoga pose that is absolutely phenomenal for opening up your hips. In this pose, you are working on hip extension, flexion, and external rotation. This pose will help correct anterior pelvic tilt and internal rotation.
To do this pose, start with both of your knees on the ground. Take your left leg and put your foot flat on the ground in front of you keep your right knee down. Place your hands on the ground or on some yoga blocks/books for added support inside of your left leg. Now, try to lift your right knee off the ground with your toes staying on the ground. Really try to keep your back straight and your right leg flexed.
Hold this position for 30 seconds, switch sides for 30 seconds, and repeat two more times on each leg.
Kneeling side bends
The kneeling side bend is a really good stretch for correcting lateral hip tilt. It’s very simple to do and it is not particularly challenging.
To start, drop to both of your knees on the ground.
Take your left hand and reach as high as you can.
Now, push your left hip as far to the left as you can.
As indicated by the photo, you should feel a big stretch all down your left side. Try to focus on the hip and get it as far left as you can.
Hold for 30 seconds, switch sides, and repeat two more times for each side.
Too long, didn’t read
Hip mobility is often the culprit of pain in places that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. People who complain of low back pain or knee pain often have poor hip mobility that places the joints in unnatural positions causing pain. Furthermore, poor hip mobility will lead to strength imbalances in your legs which will lead to asymmetric growth and likely lead to an overuse injury.
In order to stop the pain, you need to work on mobilizing the hips so that they sit in the natural position that they were designed to sit in.
Stretches like the 90/90 stretch, lizard pose, and kneeling side bends will all work on the common hip mobility problems that most people experience.
Jordan Tank, Personal Trainer, Columbus, Ohio
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