20 Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Hip Pain

Whether you’re sitting on your behind all day, or participating in triathlons, your hips are hard at work.

You will start to feel an ache and tightness in your pelvis and buttocks that makes you shift  your weight from side to side to find relief from the pain. As you age, hip pain becomes more common. You have probably tried stretching exercises while sitting to find comfort from the throbbing, but the only true way to battle the discomfort is with hip exercises that focus on strengthening your hip over time.


I’ve put together my top exercises for hip pain that I recommend for my patients.

Benefits of Physical Therapy Exercises

Hip strengthening exercises bring the area relief and are a great way to combat recurrent pain. Also, with strength training, you will learn to move easier. Hip pain is a complicated complaint that can be caused by a variety of things but learning how to strengthen hips correctly will go a long way towards bringing you much-needed abatement.

Understanding Hip Pain

Most refer to the hip joint as the ‘ball and socket’ because of the way that the round head of the thigh bone is cupped within the pelvic bone. Ligaments and muscles hold the large joint in place. Sadly, the joint is often struck by osteoarthritis, but there are ways to protect the joints by strengthening the muscles to create a firm foundation. Also, you might not know your hip is what controls your leg and knee. If you have knee pain, then you might favor the leg and place extra strain on the hip which can lead to hip joint pain as it strives to compensate.

Warm-Up Stretches

A warm-up helps to slowly prepare your body for the workout ahead. The blood flow increases to your muscles, your joints become looser, and your heart rate increases.

Lateral Pendulum (Warm-Up)

A warm-up of your hips is imperative to prevent injury and get the most out of a workout. Lateral pendulum leg swings help boost the range of motion in the muscles located on the outside and inside of your hip to create stability.

Lateral Pendulum Warm Up
  1. Swing your left leg from left to right in front of you.
  2. Do not rotate your body while swinging your legs.
  3. Swing each one of your legs from side to side ten times.

Forward Pendulums (Warm-Up): Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises

The forward pendulum warms up your hip flexors and hamstrings making this one of the best hip flexors strengthening exercises. Use the wall for support as you warm up for your hip strengthening exercises on your hamstrings & glutes.

02 Forward Pendulums (warm Up) 01
  1. Swing your left leg forward and back.
  2. Keep your posture straight and do not bend your knees.
  3. Swing your right leg forward and back to get the blood flowing in your hips.
  4. Repeat 10 swings for each leg.
  5. Never aggressively swing your legs. Take it slow and easy to loosen your muscles in preparation for the real workout.

Standing Quad Stretch

With the Standing Quad Stretch, you will work out the quadriceps while loosening your hips. Take this exercise slow and easy so you don’t strain your lower back.

Standing Quad Stretch
  1. Stand with feet placed hip-width apart.
  2. Suck in abdominals.
  3. Loosen your shoulders.
  4. Bend your left knee.
  5. Pull your heel back towards your buttocks.
  6. Grasp your left foot with your right hand.
  7. Hold this position and feel a mild pull in the front of your leg.
  8. Repeat with the other leg.

Basic Hamstring Stretch

Do you suffer from tight hamstrings? Give the basic hamstring stretch a try to help extend your gluteal muscles and improve daily functions such as walking.

Basic Hamstring Stretch
  1. Sit your butt down on the floor with your legs stretched straight out in front of you.
  2. Reach forward with your arms and palms on the floor by bending your body at the waist while keeping your knees flat
  3. Hold the position for 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Return your body to a seated position and repeat three times.

IT Band Stretch

Your iliotibial band crosses your knee and can often benefit from a good stretch. Physical therapists frequently employ the IT Band Stretch.

It Band Stretch
  1. Lie on your back
  2. Bend the knee on the leg on top
  3. Reach behind your body and grab your ankle so you feel an immediate tightness in your quadriceps.
  4. Pull back gently and release
  5. Place the bottom of your foot so it is positioned on the side of your top knee.
  6. Pull the top of your foot down towards the floor so it lays elongated on the outside part of your top thigh.
  7. Repeat each leg three to five times.

Hip Flexor Stretch & Rotation

The Hip Flexor Stretch & Rotation is an effective, easy exercise. It will loosen up your hip muscles.

Hip Flexor Stretch & Rotation
  1. Kneel onto your left knee.
  2. Bend your knee and place your right foot on the floor in front of your body.
  3. Lean forward so your left hip stretches towards the floor.
  4. Squeeze your buttocks so your hip flexor stretches.
  5. Hold the position for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes.
  6. Repeat by switching sides.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

The Standing Hip Flexor Stretch is a great way to stretch your quadriceps and hip flexors. However, take care to maintain your balance.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
  1. Take your left foot and step forward while keeping your right knee in a bent position.
  2. Tuck your buttocks so they are held tight under your hips
  3. Feel the stretch in the front of your hip and along your upper thigh.
  4. Hold and repeat with your right leg.
  5. Perform four to five sets.

Pigeon Stretch

The Pigeon is a Yoga pose that opens your hips. You’ll be able to do one hip at a time with the pigeon stretch.

Pigeon Hip Stretch
  1. Bend your right knee while sitting and extend your left leg so it rests behind you.
  2. Pull your right heel towards your left hip.
  3. Your left hip should be pointed downward so your hip starts to open.
  4. Rest your hands on your right thigh and remain in the position. You can also slowly walk your hands out in front, so your torso bends downwards and rests across your right knee.
  5. Repeat the pose for the other leg.

Exercises to Strengthen Hips

As with any workout, your goal is strength training to build strong, dependable muscles. Performing exercises for hip pain improves not only your muscles but also your hip joint which might prevent the need for hip replacements as you age.

Here is a list of exercises for hip pain that can be done at home as part of your private exercise routine. Each exercise is easy to perform and helps build muscle while combating discomfort. You won’t feel like you must jump through hoops to find relief because the various workouts are easy to perform and doable for any age.

Single-Leg Bridges

Give your hamstrings, quads, and glutes a true workout with Single Leg Bridges. This exercise is also known to work your upper leg and hip muscles.

Single Leg Bridge
  1. Lie flat on your back.
  2. Place your hands’ palm sides on the floor.
  3. Bend one leg
  4. Slowly lift the other leg upwards
  5. Push downward with your heel on the floor while you lift upwards with your pelvis to place your body in a bridge position.
  6. Lower your body and then repeat performing 15 reps for each side.

Single-Leg Hip Circles

A famous Pilates move, Single-Leg Hip Circles work the quads, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles. This is considered a great beginner’s exercise that improves your range of motion.

Single Leg Hip Circles
  1. Position your body on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips with toes pointed out. Your feet will be spread shoulder width.
  2.  Tighten your core muscles and lift one leg to the side.
  3. Make an expansive circle with your knee up and to the side and front.
  4. Repeat 10 circles forward and then 10 circles backward on each leg.

Single-Leg Glute Kicks (Donkey Kicks)

This is a classic exercise that is often performed with a machine. However, you can do it on your own to work your glutes.

Donkey Kicks
  1. Position your body on all fours.
  2. Extend your left leg out in a kicking motion that is like a donkey kick.
  3. Repeat each side slowly or rapidly.
  4. Hold your leg in a straight position and then a bent position as you kick out so you shift your weight.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat the other side.

Single-Leg Glute Med Kicks

The Single-Leg Glute Med Kicks is almost the same as Single Leg Glute Kicks, but your leg is not held at 90 degrees. Instead the leg is positioned at 45 degrees, so it is not perpendicular as it is with the normal donkey kick.

Single Leg Glute Med Kicks
  1. Position your body on all fours.
  2. Left your leg up in a bent position. Do not kick outward.
  3. Hold the position as you feel your muscles pull, remember, do not straighten your leg to kick out.
  4. Lower your leg and repeat with the other leg.
  5. Perform a rep of five.

Plié Squats

Plié Squats open your hips and give you shapely legs. The exercise is popular and relatively easy.

Plié Squats
  1. Spread your feet wider than your hips.
  2. Point your toes at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Place your hands on your hips.
  4. Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle.
  5. Pause and hold the position.
  6. Lift your hips back to a standing position.
  7. Repeat 15 times.

Reverse Clam Shell

Reverse Clam Shells are often used to relieve back and hip pain. The exercise works the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

Reverse Clam Shell
  1. Position yourself on your side with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Place your arm under your head for support
  3. Rotate your foot in an outward direction so it points up towards the ceiling.
  4. Keep your knees together.
  5. Perform 10 sets and then repeat for the opposite side.

Some people use a resistance band to make it even harder to lift and rotate your foot.

Clam Shells

The Clam Shell is performed using a resistance band. It effectively works your hips, glutes, and pelvis.

Clam Shell
  1. Lay on your side.
  2. Bend your legs at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Place your head on your lower arm.
  4. Suck in your abdominal muscles.
  5. Keeping your feet touching raise your banded upper knee and stretch the band.
  6. Avoid lifting your lower leg from the floor.
  7. Hold the position.
  8. Perform 20 reps for each side.

Glute Back Presses

The Glute Back Presses refer to basic hip thrust. However, you will have your arms behind you pressed into your back for a maximum hip extension and back press.

Glute Back Presses
  1. Start in the same position as the glue-med side lifts.
  2. Tuck your pelvis so that your lower back lengthens and keep both knees facing forward.
  3. Lift your leg directly back and hold the position for two seconds.
  4. Slowly return your leg to the starting position.
  5. Perform 20 reps.

Monster Walks

The Monster Walk is one of the best exercises available to strengthen your glutes. It is easy to perform and even fun.

Monster Walks
  1. Use a band that has moderate resistance.
  2. Encircle your ankles with the band.
  3. Keep your back straight.
  4. Bend your knees at a 45-degree angle.
  5. Walk forward or backward while maintaining constant friction on the band.

Have Hip Pain? Try These Exercises!

If you have mild to moderate hip pain, then strengthening exercises are ideal. However, if you are in severe pain then you should seek the help of a physical therapist who will work with you on strengthening the muscles in a variety of ways.

I hope that the above exercises are beneficial in relieving your hip discomfort. Each one is easy to perform in your home or at the gym and can aid in a speedy recovery.

Photo of author

Dr. Kristina DeMatas

Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Read bio.


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