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Key Exercises To Keep Your Hips Healthy
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
There are many potential causes of hip pain and stiffness, and as anyone who has experienced significant trouble with a hip joint will tell you, inability to walk or even sit cross-legged without pain is a real killer of quality of life.
Generally, I categorize hip pain and stiffness into two categories based on the source of dysfunction.
The first category is pain that emanates from the hip joint itself, the space between the ball of the thigh bone (femur) and the socket of the pelvis (acetabulum). This is typically diagnosed as a type of arthritis, degenerative or metabolic.
The second category is pain that stems from dysfunctional soft tissues that surround the hip joint. This could be a torn ligament (like a torn labrum), a chronically tight hip capsule, or injured muscles.
Regardless of which category we're dealing with, I generally encourage my clients to roll up their jogging pants and get to work on all of the tissues that surround their pelvis and lower extremities.
Hip pain and stiffness are rarely the result of having one damaged tissue. Rather, because the hip joint requires numerous supporting ligaments, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues to keep it stable and functional, hip pain and stiffness are often symptomatic of a host of imbalances in the surrounding tissues.
This is why I encourage daily stretching and pressure work of all of the soft tissues that surround the pelvis and lower extremities, beginning with the soft tissues that line the inner part of the thigh region.
Here's a look at the inner portion of the hip that we're considering in this post:
In this inner hip region, commonly called the groin area, we have four adductor muscles, a portion of the sartorius muscle, and parts of the pectineus and gracilis muscles. Plus all of the tendons of said muscles up by their insertion points around the lower part of the pelvis.
Unless you do yoga daily and you target the hip area, you can likely benefit from stripping and stretching your inner hip area with a foam roller.
Actually, the inner hip area is typically too tight and tender for most people to go straight to a foam roller. So I usually start with a jumbo tennis ball - it's about the size and consistency of a volleyball, and allows for effective soft tissue work all around the hips and lower extremities.
How to Stretch and Massage Your Inner Hip Muscles Using a Jumbo Tennis Ball
Start by lying on your side with your head and neck supported on a foam roller or a couple of pillows.
Support your weight on the left side of your trunk and your left leg, and position a jumbo tennis ball on the ground right in front of your groin area. Then, place the inner portion of your right hip over the ball - this is the ready position.
Allow your right knee to drop until the inner portion of your right hip is lying on the ball.
Letting gravity push your right groin muscles and tendons into the ball, slowly move your leg down, allowing your inner hip area to roll over the ball. Go slowly, maintain steady breathing, and feel free to pause and apply some downward pressure on the ball whenever you hit an area that feels particularly tight.
Now slowly bring your right hip up towards your trunk, and again, feel free to pause and work on areas that feel especially tight.
The goal is to move your hip joint through a circular motion while maintaining steady pressure on the ball with your right inner hip region. This exercise stretches and massages the soft tissues in this region and improves blood flow to the area.
And if you do this exercise daily, preferably later in the day when you're not prone to pulling anything, you can rest assured knowing that tight groin muscles aren't contributing to any compensatory problems in your lower back, knees, or anywhere else in your body.
Here's a brief video clip that shows this exercise in real time:
As with all body work, it's best to work on both sides of your body to prevent imbalances from developing.
How to Stretch Your Groin Region Using a Foam Roller
Once you have the experience of working on your inner hip area with a jumbo tennis ball or volleyball, you can move on to using a foam roller for even greater gains.
You'll need to support your body on your elbows and knees, and tuck the edge of your foam roller under your belly and under and in between your thighs so that the edge of the roller is in contact with your inner hip region.
While maintaining balance on your elbows and mainly your off (resting) leg, slowly move your body so that your right inner thigh rolls along the foam roller and experiences solid stripping action. It should feel like a deep tissue massage, and again, you can pause and increase pressure on your soft tissues when you find areas that require more attention.
Here's a brief video clip that shows how to use a foam roller to stretch and strip out the soft tissues in your groin:
Please keep in mind that it's always prudent to work with a medical professional to determine a definitive or working diagnosis whenever you are dealing with any health challenge.
If you don't have a foam roller and are looking to invest in one that offers a blend of comfort, durability, and ideal density to provide therapeutic rolling of your muscles and ligaments, please feel free to have a look at the one that I had custom made for our clients here:
For a DVD that presents still photos and video clips that illustrate how to take your body through all of the major stretches and foam rolling exercises you can do to keep your body as healthy as your genetics will allow, have a look here:
If you eventually find that your muscles can use more pressure than what a jumbo tennis ball or volleyball can provide, I recommend using an 8 or 10 pound medicine ball like the one below:
If you need something lighter but just as firm, I recommend choosing their black and purple 4 pound ball.
Hope these guidelines prove to be helpful.
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