Many people are concerned about loss of strength in their hips and thighs, and struggle to get the exercise they need because of pain in their low backs---but did you know this may be solved by improving your hip mobility? Hip mobility, the ability to move your hips through a full range of motion, may be off due to a muscular imbalance, or simply be diminished through inactivity and lack of use. Since it is estimated that 85-95 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime, it makes sense to understand how hip mobility can be related and what simple steps can be taken to keep your own hips moving well. It just may alleviate or prevent a lot of low back pain.
Address the Cause, Not the Symptoms
Michael Boyle, renowned strength and conditioning coach and author of the book, Advances in Functional Training, teaches us that when we are in pain we tend to look at the affected area (in this case the low back) as the root of the problem, but often times the pain stems from issues occurring in other areas of the body. In many cases of low back pain, the hip flexors are at the center of the problem. The hip flexors are a group of skeletal muscles attached in the pelvic region that work to pull on the femur (thigh bone) and lift the legs upwards. When these muscles become overactive, shortened or tight they may prevent or limit movement of the hips, which may lead to low back pain. Activities that involve sitting for long periods or consistent repetition of hip flexion, e.g. running, may be to blame for many of the cases in which the hip flexors are too tight. Regular stretching of these muscles may help to allow proper elasticity and restore muscular balance. Yoga is a classic example of an activity that helps decrease back pain by stretching the hip flexors.
Bringing Up the Rear
For many, the gluteal (buttocks) muscles are used as nothing more than padding for the tailbone. As a result of being underworked, weak gluteal muscles have trouble counteracting the effects of overactive lumbar and hip flexor muscles, which can pull the pelvis out of its normal alignment. Without enough strength and hip mobility to perform their primary role as hip extensors, the gluteals can quickly become the weakest link of the core. What can I do to strengthen my glutes you ask? Depending on your fitness level, you may begin strengthening the gluteals with movements as simple as “clenching” the glutes together for repetitions or held for time, or more advanced moves such as hip bridges to train this area. The popular book 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back by Esther Gokhale is a great place to start learning basic gluteal strengthening exercise, such as glidewalking, that can become a part of your daily life--you can visit her website at www.gokhalemethod.com.
Move It or Lose It
Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada) and author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, states that one of the most common causes of low back pain that he sees comes from poor hip mobility. He believes the reason for this is that if you are unable to move well through the hips, that the low back has to make up for it, placing excessive stress on the muscles, joints and disks that can culminate into serious injury. Simply performing dynamic mobility moves such as leg circles, leg swings and hip extensions to name a few, may add a great deal to hip mobility and decrease low back pain. For many seniors, the best place to perform these moves is in a swimming pool where a greater range of motion can be achieved. The Bradley Wellness Center offers Arthritis Aquatics classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that are held in a heated pool and focus on joint mobility.
To sum up, three of the best ways to protect your lower back and improve your hip mobility are:
1. Increasing the flexibility of your hip flexors with
2. Increasing the strength of your gluteal (buttock) muscles.
3. Performing dynamic mobility moves for the hips regularly.
If you are interested in learning more information associated with improving your hip mobility to ease your back pain, the Bradley Wellness Center is here to help. Call today at 706-278-9355 to find out more about our aquatics programs or to inquire on our personal training packages that may benefit you. Be pro-active in your health and leave back pain in the past.
Written by: Jeremy Walraven, Fitness Consultant, Bradley Wellness Center