With these simple steps, you may never need hip surgery…
If you’re tired of hobbling around on an aching hip, surgery to replace that failing joint might sound pretty good.
Every year, more than 330,000 Americans get this operation. For those who have severe joint damage (for example, bone-on-bone damage that prevents full range of motion), hip replacement can be an excellent choice.
Here’s the rub: Many people who receive a hip replacement aren’t in this category. They undergo hip replacement but don’t realize that the cause of their pain could be in hip muscles, not joints.
Identify the Problem
If you complain about persistent groin pain (one of the most common symptoms of hip dysfunction), your doctor will probably order an imaging test (such as an X-ray and/or MRI scan).
What you need to know: Even though imaging tests can give doctors a great deal of information about the condition of a joint, they aren’t as conclusive as you might think. For example, an X-ray can show a decrease in cartilage and less space between the thighbone and hip socket, but doctors differ in deciding at what point surgery becomes necessary. Virtually everyone who’s age 50 or older will show some degree of joint damage just from normal wear and tear. A decrease in range of motion at the hip joint is key to the need for surgery.
Does a diagnosis of arthritis at the hip joint mean that you need surgery? Not necessarily. Most hip and groin pain is caused by muscle weakness or a muscle imbalance. People who correctly exercise these muscles can often eliminate—or at least greatly reduce—their discomfort. Strengthening these muscles also can help ease pain in those who have already had hip replacements…and improve balance.
THE BEST WORKOUTS
The following exercises are ideal for hip or groin pain. After getting your doctor’s OK, start by trying to repeat each one 10 times. Take a one-minute break, then repeat two more sets. The whole routine, which should be done two or three times a week, takes about 20 minutes.
- Hamstring curl. The hamstrings (in the back of the thigh) play a key role in the functioning of the hip joints. However, the hamstrings are weak in most people—mainly because these muscles aren’t used much in normal daily movements.
How this exercise helps: It strengthens hamstrings and helps prevent the opposing muscles (the quadriceps, in the front of the thigh) from shortening and causing muscle strain and/or spasms.
How to do it: Attach one end of a piece of elastic exercise tubing (available in sporting-goods stores and online) to your left ankle. Stand on the other end with your right foot. Leaving more slack will reduce resistance…taking up the slack will increase it.
With your feet a few inches apart and knees slightly bent, raise your left foot and curl it backward toward your buttocks as far as you comfortably can. Then return to the starting position. If you feel unsteady, put one hand (on the side opposite the leg you’re working) on a wall. Switch legs and repeat.
- Hip abduction. This is great for hip or groin pain because the abductor muscles (on the outer thighs) tend to be much weaker than the opposing adductor muscles.
How this exercise helps: Weakness in the abductors can allow the pelvis to drop on one side, which can cause groin muscles to tighten and become painful.
How to do it: Lie on the side that’s not painful (or less painful) on a mat or a carpeted floor. Your painful side will be on top. Place your arm under your head, and bend your other leg’s knee for better support and balance.
Slowly raise your affected leg, keeping it in line with your torso. Keep the knee straight, and don’t roll forward or backward. Raise your leg only to hip height (a few inches). Then slowly lower your leg back to the starting position. After performing a set, roll over and repeat the exercise with the other leg, only after pain has eased in the affected leg. Otherwise, focus only on strengthening the painful side.
- Hip flexor stretch. This exercise is vital. Most of us spend a lot of time sitting, causing these muscles to shorten and tighten.
How this exercise helps: It stretches tight hip flexors, which can stress the low back.
How to do it: Kneel on your right knee on a mat or a carpeted area. (If you need more padding, you can put a folded towel under the knee.) Place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you, with the knee bent. Rest your left hand on your left thigh and your right hand on your right hip. Keeping your back straight and abdominal muscles tight, lean forward so that more of your weight is on the front leg. You’ll feel a stretch in your right upper thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch sides.
- Quad stretch. Overly tight quad muscles can pull the pelvis downward—a common cause of low-back and hip pain.
How this exercise helps: Stretching the quads helps distribute weight evenly through the pelvis.
How to do it: Stand near a wall for support. Rest your right hand on the wall, then reach back with your left hand to grip your left foot/ankle. Pull your heel upward toward your buttocks—and eventually behind the hip. Keep pulling, gently, until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Hold for about 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
If your pain doesn’t improve after a month of performing these exercises, consult your doctor.