Healthy hips, happy back
It’s pretty much a given. Keeping your lower back happy requires healthy, full hip mobility. This can be tough, given the postures that many of us are required to sustain throughout the workday. Ironically the gradual stiffening that occurs in the hip is rarely felt in the hip. Instead, complaints come from other interdependent regions that are forced to take up the slack.
During the walking cycle, as the body moves forward in space over the left foot, for example, the left thigh should be able to move behind the plane of the torso by at least 15-20 degrees; running requires even more. If the hip is limited into this direction (hip extension), the motion must come from someplace else. That someplace is most often the lower back.
Ultimately this forces too much motion and stress into these compensating areas and tissue breakdown starts to occur. Core strength, hip control, and various other factors are important; for many, however, adequate hip mobility is at the crux of maintaining or regaining back health.
Is it too late if the hip joints have already started to lose mobility? Absolutely not! Stretching can still be very helpful. In addition to the typical muscular stretches you will also want to include stretches for joint tissue. Try the following stretches to maintain or regain hip mobility.
Hip flexor stretch
Position yourself in a half kneeling position, with the shoulder, hips, and knee aligned. Keeping the torso vertical, tuck the tailbone underneath you into a pelvic tilt. Maintain the pelvic tilt for 30-40 seconds as able. Do 2-3 times on each side.
In addition to stretching the hip flexor muscles this stretch will elongate the fibers of the joint itself, specifically the anterior joint capsule.
If it is painful or difficult to be in a half kneeling position, try this alternate instead. Stand in a doorway or at a wall with the left foot about 18-24” in front of the right foot. Keeping the torso vertical, tuck the tailbone underneath you into a pelvic tilt. Hold this position for 30-40 seconds as you are able. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.
Hip rotator stretch
The primary sensation should be of a stretch in the bum/backside. Don’t do this stretch if you feel any pinching in the front of the hip or groin, or if there is discomfort in either knee.
Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet on the floor. Place the bent right leg on top of the left leg, (back of right thigh contacting front of left thigh). Using the assistance of your hands, bring both knees up towards your chest, holding 30-40 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.
A slight variation is to place the right outer ankle bone onto the left thigh. Then again use the assistance of the hands to bring knees towards the chest. Hold 30-40 seconds, repeating 2-3 times on each side.
After tightening of the hip joint has begun, shortened tissue often draws the ball upwards within the socket. This creates a less than spacious situation, which can then affect circulation to the hip as well as further reduce hip mobility. This joint mobilizing stretch encourages the downward glide of the ball within the socket.
Lie on your back with a small rolled towel at the front of the right hip joint. Gently pull your right thigh up towards your chest, up and over the towel roll. The sensation created should be one of the hip opening, vs compression of the abdomen. Hold this position for only a few seconds, release a few inches, then repeat. Do this several times for 30-60 seconds on each side, or on the hip that feels restricted.
Maintaining full hip mobility helps to create a positive cascade of results, including a healthy walking pattern, as well as providing good circulation and nutrition to the hips. This in turn reduces the wear and tear on the lower back.
Best wishes for healthy mobility!
For educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or disorder.