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The Exercises and Stretches for Hip Pain That Physical Therapists Swear By

Learn about the most effective ways to manage and prevent hip pain, especially with therapeutic exercises and stretches from physical therapists.

Published Date: Apr 19, 2023
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You may not give a ton of thought to your hips as you go about your day, but they’re a key part of what allows you to do so much of what you love. They help you sit, walk, go for a run, and unload a bag of groceries. When your hips hurt, it’s not just uncomfortable — it can actually interfere with your daily routine. 

Hip pain is very common: It occurs in up to 40% of adults who play sports, and in 12-15% of adults over the age of 60. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s inevitable for you. “When it comes to hip pain, movement is medicine,” says Gina Clark, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. Adding simple hip exercises and stretches to your routine can go a long way to reduce pain and improve mobility in your hips. As a Hinge Health member recently told us, “My hips used to hurt after walking or running only a few miles. Now, after starting my stretches and exercises, I can run much longer distances." 

Read on to learn how to manage hip pain with simple at-home measures and prevent it from flaring in the future. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Gina Clark, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Gina Clark is a Hinge Health physical therapist and specializes in treating MSK conditions and women's pelvic health.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Hip Pain: Common Causes

Hip pain can be very complex due to a combination of factors, such as:  

  • Arthritis. It’s normal for the structures in your body to change with age, and your cartilage is no exception. Changes to cartilage don’t always cause symptoms, but they can contribute to joint pain and stiffness for some people. 

  • Bursitis. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that sit between the bones, muscles, and tendons in the hip. Inflammation of the bursae can cause temporary pain and discomfort. 

  • Tendinitis. Inflammation of the hip tendons is often related to doing repetitive activities that your body could use a short break from (e.g., increasing running mileage quicker than your body is ready for without cross-training). 

  • Hip labral tear. This is an injury to the cartilage that lines the acetabulum (the hip socket where the head of the femur or thigh bone sits). It’s often an overuse injury. 

  • Sprains and strains. Just like any other joint, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around your hip can get stretched or torn from muscle tightness, injury, or overuse. 

While each of these factors can play a different role in hip pain, they share one thing in common: stretching and exercise can help.

The Best Treatment for Hip Pain: Movement

When it comes to hip pain, motion is lotion. “The more you move, the better your hip will feel,” says Dr. Clark. “It also helps improve strength and flexibility, which can help relieve the achiness that comes from stiff joints and sore muscles.” 

Research backs this up. A 2020 study published in the journal SAGE Open Medicine, for example, found that people with hip osteoarthritis who participated in a six-week cycling program reported significant pain relief and better day-to-day functioning. The challenge? It can be hard to move when you’re in pain (as you very well know). That’s why Dr. Clark recommends these minor tweaks to common aerobic activities so you can stay active:

  • Biking. If this is hard on your hips, consider using a recumbent bike for a little while, which has back support. This can help with hip pain because hip and back pain are often connected. And if you use a stationary bike, try not to stand up and pedal — this puts extra pressure on your hip joints. 

  • Walking. Ever used walking poles? If not, now might be the time to start. You can also grab a set of old ski poles and use them while you walk. “This not only helps with balance, but it can also help offload a painful hip joint so that you can walk further with less irritation,” explains Dr. Clark. Scaling back on your walking pace or distance can also be effective. Rather than doing a brisk walk for 45 minutes, try 30 minutes at a slower pace until the worst of your pain passes and then gradually increase from there. 

  • Running. If hip pain affects your running routine, try switching to the pool — at least temporarily. “Since the water keeps you buoyant, there’s much less pressure on your joints,” says Dr. Clark. You can also swim laps, or do water aerobics for some cross-training. 

  • Elliptical training. This is a more hip-friendly option because the motion puts less pressure on your hip joints than something like a stair climber machine. They also often have handles or poles you can use for an upper body workout, and you can move the pedals backward to work different muscles and improve your balance.

You may notice some discomfort at first when you start these workouts. That’s okay. Discomfort and a little pain aren’t necessarily bad. “When you move your hip joint through any of these activities, you begin to lubricate it, which helps the pain and stiffness go away,” explains Dr. Clark. “It’s just like when you stand up out of a chair after sitting for a while. The first couple steps can feel stiff, but that tends to go away once you start moving around for a little while.” 

If you find it hard to get moving even with these adaptations, you may benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you work through your hip pain by building strength and flexibility so you can exercise again. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Aerobic exercise (think: walking, running, biking, jumping) is great for hip pain. But it’s not the only type of movement that you’ll need to get your hips moving and grooving again.

Best Strengthening Exercises for Hip Pain

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Best Stretching Exercises for Hip Pain

“Strength exercises are important because they take pressure off of the hip joint itself,” explains Dr. Clark. This includes strengthening muscles that you wouldn’t even necessarily think of when it comes to hip pain, like your glute (butt) muscles. “When you strengthen those, they help with walking. And as you improve your walking pattern, it trickles into the hip as well, which reduces pain,” she says. One study published in the Journal of Osteoporosis, for example, found that women with hip pain who participated in a 12-week hip exercise program reported that their pain decreased by more than 30% — and they saw a similar increase in hip mobility. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Break It Up

When you sit for long periods, your hip muscles tend to tighten up and cause some pain. “Movement snacks” throughout the day helps release tension in your body and provide a good opportunity for stretching. “I like to do seated marches, or even a seated butterfly stretch, to loosen up my hips,” says Dr. Clark. Once you’ve done that, consider using a tennis ball to massage any sore areas in your hips. “You can lean up against a wall and massage it through your glute muscles, or lean on the back of a chair,” she recommends.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Paoloni, J. (2021, October 1). Approach to the adult with unspecified hip pain. UptoDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/approach-to-the-adult-with-unspecified-hip-pain

  2. Godman, H. (2021, August 1). The best types of exercises when you have hip or knee pain. Harvard Health.  https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/the-best-types-of-exercise-when-you-have-hip-or-knee-pain#:~:text=These%20include%20swimming%20laps%2C%20water,build%20muscle%20and%20bone%20strength).

  3. Uusi-Rasi, K., Patil, R., Karinkanta, S., Tokola, K., Kannus, P., & Sievänen, H. (2017). Exercise Training in Treatment and Rehabilitation of Hip Osteoarthritis: A 12-Week Pilot Trial. Journal of Osteoporosis, 2017, 1–7. doi:10.1155/2017/3905492

  4. Wainwright, T. W., Burgess, L. C., Immins, T., Cowan, N., & Middleton, R. G. (2020). A cycling and education intervention for the treatment of hip osteoarthritis: A quality improvement replication programme. SAGE Open Medicine, 8, 205031212094652. doi:10.1177/2050312120946522

  5. Torres, D., Hanney, W. J., Velazquez, L., Pabian, P. S., & Pilkington, C. (2021).  Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Practice, 33(3), 150-154.