Hip arthritis can cause constant pain and discomfort, which may increase slightly after using the joint, even for simple activities like walking. You may take this as a sign to stay off of it, but lack of exercise can actually cause other discomforts like stiffness. This article teaches the best exercises for hip arthritis that you can do to increase mobility and hopefully reduce long-term pain.
The Effects of Arthritis on Your Hips
Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe many different conditions that lead to joint damage and pain. Causes are many, though the symptoms tend to include a combination of any of the following:
- Joint pain
- Cartilage deterioration
- Bone loss
- Reduced range of motion
- Pinched nerves
Arthritis can be caused by disease, infection, injury, or daily wear and tear, just to name a few. The two most common types are hip joint osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are defined in detail below.
Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is more common than you might think, affecting roughly 25% of adults in the U.S. It is simply the wearing away of the protective cartilage that cushions the bones in joints. This can be caused by repeated, high-impact activities such as gymnastics or a natural occurrence from wear and tear over the years.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints, causing similar, but accelerated damage. There is no cure for either, though some preventative care can reduce arthritis progression. However, once the damage is done, there is no reversing it.
Why You Should Exercise With Hip Arthritis
When dealing with hip pain caused by arthritis, the instinct for many is to stay off of it to avoid discomfort. While this may be true in the short term, some activity can be beneficial for reducing pain in the long run and is common medical advice from physical therapists in many situations.
Unused joints have a tendency to get stiff, which, combined with the discomfort of arthritis, is a bad combination. Keeping those joints moving can help synovial fluid lubricate the remaining cartilage to reduce pain and stiffness. This is an important part of physical therapy.
Things to Keep in Mind Before and During Exercise with Hip Arthritis
Don’t overdo it with weight-bearing or high-impact hip exercises; just try to keep the joints moving with as little discomfort as possible. Good low-impact exercises can include cardio like swimming, aerobic exercises like tai chi, and basic stretches like you might see in beginner yoga.
If at any point during a workout your hip pain increases quickly or your experience unusual discomfort, stop immediately. Anything beyond typical muscle soreness or daily arthritic pain could be a sign of injury and make hip pain worse. The last thing you want to do is cause harm to your already damaged joints. Consider using orthopedic braces as recommended by a healthcare professional, which may lower pain levels.
Hip Stretches and Exercises to Help Relieve Hip Arthritis Pain
If you are suffering from arthritic hip pain and cleared by your doctor to perform light physical activity to reduce discomfort and improve mobility, here are some simple range-of-motion exercises and gentle stretches you can try.
Clock tap is a simple standing stretch that may be too challenging for some. Standing upright, imagine you are standing on the face of a clock. Lift one and use it to tap where each number would be on the clockface without lifting your other leg. You won’t be able to hit every number (especially on your opposite side), but try to do the ones you reasonably can. Do a few reps, then switch legs.
Standing Iliotibial Band Stretch
The iliotibial stretch is a simple standing stretch you should use a wall for. Stand with one hip close to the wall and use that leg for support. Cross the opposite ankle in front of that ankle, then lean the outward arm toward the wall. Don’t overdo it or feel you need to reach the wall; hold for 10-15 seconds if comfortable.
Knee to Chest
A simple knee-to-chest stretch can be done while lying on your back with a knee above hip level. Just grab the raised leg and gently pull your knee toward your chest. Don’t pull so hard or far that it becomes uncomfortable. Hold for 10-15 seconds and switch legs.
A hamstring stretch can also be done on your back, but you will need a band, towel, or belt to do it. Simply loop your tool under your foot while flat on your back, then slowly pull your foot toward you while keeping your leg straight and buttocks on the ground. Do what is comfortable and switch legs after 10-15 seconds.
Hip flexions are a simple stretch done standing up, though they require awkward back muscles and may be challenging for some. You can do them in a number of ways: lying on your stomach, with your legs raised, or shoulders elevated. All you need to do extend your leg behind you or off the ground from a lying position. Be careful not to strain your back by doing too many reps or holding the pose too long.
Sit-and-stand reps are very literal. All you need to do is use a chair to sit down and stand up around 10 times. You can use both hands, one hand, or no hands for different intensity levels. Essentially you lean forward from a seated position and perform a partial squat.
Squats can be done without additional weight and limiting repetitions and range of motion. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then bend your legs while keeping your back straight to lower yourself down. Without exceeding a 90-degree bend in your knees or hips, stop and return to a standing position. You can hold onto a chair or railing for support as needed. This exercise is excellent for strengthening the hip muscles and relieving joint pain.
A bridge is similar to hip extensions, though it is usually done only when lying flat and not in reps. Lying on your back, plant your feet flat on the ground by bending your knees. Extend your arms along your sides down toward your feet. Then lift your hips into the air and hold. Your upper body should be off the ground except near your shoulders. Hold for 10-15 seconds, or as comfortable, and lower back down. Don’t push it if you feel any arm or back pain.
The starting position for clamshells involves lying on your side with your knees bent and feet together. Simply lift and lower your top knee like a clamshell opening. Then switch sides and repeat up to 10 reps each.
Figure 4 Stretch
For the figure 4 stretch, lie flat on your back with one foot planted below you, and your knee bent into the air. Then take your other foot and cross it inward, so it rests on the top of your raised quadricep. Use your arms to gently pull your planted leg toward you, stretching the opposite hip. Be very careful not to overdo this hip flexor stretch, and switch to the other legs after 10-15 seconds.
Speak With Your Doctor Before Doing These Exercises
While these are the best examples of exercises for hip arthritis, your specific situation might come with variables that make certain types of exercise unadvisable. It is always a good idea to speak with your physical therapist before trying anything new.