Happy, healthy hip function is important to just about every part of your bodies well-being. Asymmetries or imbalances in the hips can lead to problems in all parts of your body, including, believe it or not, shoulder pain, neck pain, knee pain and foot pain.
Long extensor muscles that run down the length of your spine can become stressed by imbalanced hips, causing stress as far away as your upper neck and base of the skull.
The latissimus or “lats”, which are more commonly thought of as dominating the “lateral” sides of the body, actually attach as low as the sacrum and extend up to the fronts of your shoulders, meaning that hip imbalances can cause pain, trigger points and issues along the whole path of that muscle, including up into the shoulder.
The knees and feet are similarly vulnerable to hip imbalances, as fascial and muscle strain originating in the hips can cause knee tracking problems and plantar fasciitis.
Knowing that the hips play an important role in the health and pain free movement of so many parts of your body, it’s easy to appreciate how keeping them limber and mobile can help to ensure pain free movement and workout routines. Here’s a few stretches to keep your hips happy.
Butterfly stretch is a simple stretch that most of us are familiar with from childhood gym. It targets the inner thighs as they connect up into the sits bones on the hips. Sit flat on the ground, and bring the bottoms of your feet together, allowing your knees to drop out to the sides toward the ground. It’s important to relax the groin to allow this stretch the greatest effect, so if you’re feeling especially tight, roll up blankets or props underneath your knees for support so you can allow your legs to gently melt into the stretch. Remember to keep your back straight and sit up tall on your sits bones. If you find your back rounding, sit up on a block or blanket to take some of the pressure off and ensure a straight back posture.
This stretch can be modified into “extended butterfly” or “diamond stretch” by moving your feet away from you along the floor, until you feel the stretch move from your inner thighs to the outsides of your hips. If you’re not feeling it with a vertical spine, feel free to lean forward to enhance the hip stretch, remembering to keep a proud chest and straight spine as you lean forward, rather than rounding the spine.
Seated Pigeon Stretch
Pigeon stretch is a yoga pose that’s challenging for most to accomplish without practice. Luckily, there’s a modification that allows just about anyone to achieve the main benefit of the stretch, which is a targeted piriformis (hip external rotator) stretch.
Sitting on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, bring your right ankle onto your left knee/upper thigh, and gently glide your right knee away from you. To ease into the stretch, start with your left foot far away from you and then gradually move it towards your torso to increase the stretch. You should feel the stretch in the middle of your right glute, targeting the piriformis.
A version of this stretch can also be done standing, by laying the foot, calf and knee up on a platform such as a bed, couch or table and leaning forward toward the leg with your other leg remaining standing vertical on the floor.
Long lunges, with the knee up or down, are a great way to access the hip flexor and relieve lower back pain. The hip flexor attaches to the inside of your lower spine, and then travels through your hip bowl before attaching to your femur to allow you to lift your knees and flex your hips. Step one foot out in front of you as far as you can manage, and then drop your hips toward the floor, keeping your torso vertical. The knee on the back leg can either be straight, or can bend and drop to the floor. The stretch should be felt on the front of the hip of the leg that is in back. To amplify the stretch, keep your torso straight, and slowly drop deeper into the stretch.
As children, just about all of us had the hip and spine mobility to accomplish a deep squat with ease, and before office chairs became the norm most people worked on projects or rested while in a deep squat throughout their life, maintaining hip and spine mobility as a necessity of daily life.
To achieve a deep squat, start with your feet parallel and hip distance apart. Reach down and find your big toes, and then slowly bend your knees while dropping your hips and raising your chest until your squatting with your heels on the floor, your hips below your knees and a proud raised chest and head. You can work up to this position by placing your hands on your knees instead of holding your toes, and by elevating your heels onto a block.