Did you know that much of your range of movement in the lower half of your body can be tied to your hips? Walking, squatting, bending, and more all involve the joint in some way. The body always chooses the path of least resistance, so if any joint is not moving to its optimum potential, the body will automatically resort to compensate for it at another joint, eventually leading to dysfunction and pain thereafter. So it’s no surprise that restricted mobility in the hip joint can lead to issues ranging from weakened knees to back pain.
One of the most prominent reasons for locked hips could be excessive sitting and hence it can be a very common situation with people who end up spending a huge amount of time working at the desk. The good news however, is that there are simple exercises that can unlock tight hips. Before we get into that, let me quickly explain what exactly is hip mobility and how do you identify a hip mobility restriction.
What is hip mobility?
In simple terms, hip mobility is the range of motion around the hip joint — the area where the thigh bone meets the pelvic bone. There are around 27 muscles that cross this joint, and while some of them are responsible for creating movement, others are responsible for keeping you stable while you move. That’s why any restriction in movement around this junction can lead to aches/pains either up or down the chain (knee or the lower back).
How do you identify mobility restriction at the hip joint?
Put simply, if you are unable to achieve full depth in a squat position, you are likely to have a hip mobility restriction. However, for a more precise diagnosis, there is a simple test that can be done to self-assess the quality of movement at the hip joint. All you need is a bed or a couch and you’re ready to begin. This is popularly known as The Thomas Test, as it was conceptualized by Dr. Hugh Owen Thomas. So how does it work?
Just follow these simple instructions:
– Start by sitting at the edge of your bed or a couch
– Grab one of your knees with both hands and lie down on your back
– Try to pull the knee as close as possible to your chest, while keeping the other leg relaxed
You have good mobility if you are able to get your knee fully, or almost fully, to your chest while keeping the opposite leg flat on the surface, your foot resting on the ground. However, if you are unable to pull your knee close to your chest, or if the opposite leg lifts off of the ground either sideways or upwards, you have precisely uncovered a hip mobility restriction. Please note that:
- The Thomas test allows you to check hip mobility restriction of the opposite hip to the leg you’re raising (the leg on the ground)
- In case you are able to pass the test on one leg and not on the other, you may have identified a potential imbalance and that needs to be addressed
Exercises to unlock stiff hips & strengthen the musculature around the joint:
(1) Seated dynamic pigeon
- While seated upright in a chair, place both feet on the floor with your ankles directly below the knees.
- Bring your right knee up to your chest and wrap your arms around it
- Cross your right leg over the left at a 90-degree angle so that your right ankle rests on your left thigh, keeping the foot flexed so as to not put too much pressure on the knee
- Bend forward until your chest is parallel to your right leg, hold for a few seconds, and return to the starting position
- Repeat the movement 20 times, switch legs, and repeat the whole exercise. 1-2 rounds should do it.
(2) Banded dead-bug hold
- Loop a resistance band around your feet and lie down on your back, extending your arms upwards
- Lift your hands so your elbows are above your shoulders with your fists facing in toward each other. Lift your legs so your knees are directly over your hips
- As you exhale, lower your right arm and left leg until they’re just above the floor, and bring them back to the starting position as you inhale
- Repeat with your left arm and right leg
- Hold for 20 seconds per side and do two rounds
Note: If you’re new to this exercise, you may want to build yourself up to it by trying it without the resistance band
(3) Dynamic Dragon
- Start on all fours and step your right foot between your hands. Your right knee should be above the heel
- Slowly lower your left knee to the floor, sliding your leg back until you feel a stretch in your hip and thigh
- Brig your torso into an upright position, resting your hands on your right knee, and position your left leg until it’s perpendicular to the right, foot facing forward
- Lean forward, hold for a few seconds, and return to the starting position
- Repeat the motion 20 times, switch legs, and repeat the exercise for 1-2 rounds
(4) Banded Joint mobilisation & lateral walks
Banded Joint Mobilisation:
- Place a long resistance band around your right thigh, as close to the hip as possible. Secure the other end around a stable anchor point, like a pole or a fixed piece of furniture
- Build some tension in the band and assume a kneeling lunge, with your right leg in the forward position
- Gently pull your right knee across your body, just before the midpoint of your chest, and hold for 30 seconds, and return to the starting position. Make sure your foot remains flat on the ground
- Switch legs and repeat
- Loop a short resistance band around your legs, just above the ankle
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart, the band should be taut but not stretched
- Bend your knees and enter a half-squat position, making sure that your weight is evenly distributed over both feet
- Slowly shift your weight to one leg and take a sideways step with the other, moving it in and out for about 10 repetitions. Your hips should remain level and your back should be straight throughout
- Slowly shift your weight back, switch legs, and repeat
These exercises should be done one after each other (with minimal rest in between) for 2-3 rounds
If you give these a try, ensure that you re-assess the mobility restriction after — the Thomas Test can help you benchmark your progress! it will allow you to understand if these exercises are helping you with an improved range of motion. With this blog my goal is to help you move more efficiently and #MoveBetter. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.