When it comes to ease-of-movement, problems with our hips usually take a back seat to other joint problems that become more obvious as our musculoskeletal system ages. In particular, our back and knees are prone to problems that can restrict our activities and cause chronic pain. However, the health of our hips is actually crucially important in ensuring that we maintain mobility into old age because they are the center around which the forces of movement revolve.
Pain in both our back and our knees is often due to decreased hip mobility. A chronic lack of exercise combined with long hours of sitting, which is common to people with a desk job, causes the muscles around the hips (particularly the hip flexors) to become shorter and weaker. When this happens, range of motion is decreased and the back and knees take on much of the work that healthy mobile hips normally would. This causes the back and knees to work harder and can result in overuse injuries. If you’ve ever strained your back when picking up a heavy object, it may have been due to a lack of strength and mobility in your hips. In order to help prevent future injury to your back and knees, following are some of the best exercises for hip health and mobility.
Hip swings – Steady yourself with one hand on the back of a chair or similar object. Swing one leg forward and back, keeping it straight, and being sure to move from the hip and not the thigh. Do fifteen of these on each leg. Then change direction and practice swinging your leg across the front of your body and out to the side. Do fifteen sets of these as well. Try to move your torso as little as possible when doing this exercise for the greatest benefit.
Forward lunge – Standing with your feet hip-width apart, lunge forward with your right leg, bringing your left knee to the floor. Shift your weight forward until your right knee is perpendicular over your foot and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat lunge on opposite side.
Dog at the hydrant – While on hands and knees, lift one leg out to the side and draw small clockwise circles in the air with your knee, gradually making them larger. Then do the same using counter-clockwise circles. Repeat with the other leg.
Lying butterfly and variation – While lying on your back, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, with your knees pointing out to the sides. Hold for 30 seconds. Then bring your knees up so you are lying with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring the outside of your left ankle to rest on your right knee. Reach with your left hand through the little triangle made by your left leg to interlace your fingers behind your right thigh and gently pull your right leg toward your body (with your ankle still resting on the front of your knee). Repeat with the other leg.