QUESTION

I often have hip pain but still like to go to the gym. Which machines should I be using?

ANSWER

If you want a workout that won’t hurt your hips, head for the pool instead of the machines! Simply walking in water that is navel-high is all you need to do to get an effective, pain-free workout that’s good for your heart and your hips.

The best way to do this is to walk forward and then backward in the shallow end of the pool for 30 minutes three times a week. The buoyancy of the water eases stress on hip and knee joints (both of which are weight-bearing) while adding resistance that helps build key muscles that can function as “shock absorbers” to curb hip pain.

If you want to vary the routine, you can alternate walking with marching. Bend your arms and lift your right arm while your left knee bends, and vice versa. If your hip starts to hurt while you’re marching, just lower your knees a bit.

If you don’t have access to a pool…prefer to exercise in the gym…or just want to mix up your exercise regimen, choose a stationary bike. Pedaling gently rotates the hip joints, which helps improve range of motion and relieves pain by increasing blood flow to hips. An elliptical trainer also is a good choice for a person with hip pain since it is low-impact. Thirty minutes on either of these machines will help build bone density and prevent osteoporosis. You can gradually increase the resistance/elevation on these machines, just be careful to not overdo it. If your hips are hurting, skip the treadmill or stair climber—both can be hard on your joints, including your hips.

A mat Pilates or yoga class is also beneficial for sore hips since it will strengthen your core and build flexibility. Pilates moves, such as leg lifts while lying on each side, will help strengthen your hips. Yoga poses such as the one-legged pigeon, which involves extending one leg straight behind you and bending the other leg so that the outside thigh is on the mat and your foot points the other direction, releases tightness around your hips but should be avoided if you have knee problems. If any Pilates move or yoga pose seems too difficult, your teacher can help you modify the exercises to help you avoid injury. I advise my patients to skip full forward bends, squats and lunges since these exercises can sometimes place too much stress on hips. But if any move causes pain, stop!

A go-easy regimen: Many people age 50 and older love to hike and play tennis on weekends, even though their hips and knees ache afterward. I advise them to exercise gently during the week so that their higher-impact weekend activities will be more comfortable. This might include, for example, a combination of pool walking three days a week, followed by one weekend day of a higher-impact activity such as tennis or skiing.