Best Treatments and Exercises for Sore Hips When Sitting, According to Physical Therapists
Learn about what can cause sore hips when sitting and how to prevent and treat sore hips, especially with exercises from physical therapists.
Whether you’re in school, work at a desk, or find yourself driving kids around to a thousand different activities, everyone has to sit for some period of their day. While this can’t always be avoided, it can cause your hip joints or the surrounding muscles to hurt, especially if you’re seated in the same position for an extended period. “Anytime your hips have to hold the same position for a long time, they can get fatigued or tense, which can result in some irritation and limited range of motion,” says Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
Hip pain when sitting can feel like a dull ache on one or both sides, or you might notice your hips feel a bit stiff when you get up. In some cases, the pain can radiate into the groin, says Dr. Kemp.
As common as hip pain when sitting is, it can often be managed relatively easily with a few tweaks to your routine. Here, learn more about what can cause hip pain when sitting, along with how to prevent and treat it — especially with exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Why Does My Hip Hurt When I Sit?
Your hips have an important job of supporting your body and helping you move your legs. Sitting in the same position for too long can trigger tension on your hip joints and the surrounding muscles and connective tissues, says Dr. Kemp.
There are many different factors that can contribute to hip pain, especially when sitting. (It’s worth noting that each of these factors can be addressed with gentle movement, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises.)
Sitting position. Ever been told to sit up straight? The truth is there’s no right or wrong sitting posture when thinking about joint and muscle health. But sitting in the same position for long periods of time — whether you’re crossing your legs, sitting on the ground, or in an armchair — can put some extra stress on the hip joints and the surrounding tissues, explains Dr. Kemp. While this isn’t inherently bad, it can translate to pain for some people.
Osteoarthritis. Everyone’s body changes with age. Some people develop wrinkles on their skin and others experience changes to their cartilage — the shock-absorbing material that surrounds your joint. Many people experience cartilage-related changes and have absolutely no symptoms. For others, being in a tightened position (like sitting) can cause additional irritation and contribute to arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, or swelling. Movement can help lubricate the joints and prevent pain, says Dr. Kemp.
Tendinitis. This condition happens when your tendons, which connect muscle to bone, become irritated due to repetitive motions or acute injury. As with osteoarthritis, Dr. Kemp notes muscle movement can help reduce inflammation, preventing stiffness and irritation in the area.
Bursitis. Bursa are small, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between your bones and soft tissues. Bursitis happens when the bursa become irritated and swollen, potentially contributing to additional hip pain when sitting.
Sitting on uneven surfaces. Sitting on any surface that causes your pelvis to elevate on one side can increase tension in the hips and exacerbate hip pain when sitting for some people. This isn’t to say that you have to sit on perfectly flat and even surfaces to prevent all hip pain, but it may help to be aware of this potential contributor if you are experiencing a hip pain flare at the moment. In general, sitting on a surface that keeps your knees, hips, and pelvis relatively level can help manage hip pain when sitting, says Dr. Kemp.
How to Manage Hip Pain when Sitting
If you sit a lot for your job, don’t stress about finding the perfect ergonomic setup or maintaining the right posture. Sitting in and of itself doesn’t usually cause hip pain. Rather, sitting in the same position for too long is what often puts stress on your hip joints and connective tissue, which may result in pain.
Other ways to help minimize pain from sitting include:
Take frequent breaks. Preventing or managing hip pain when sitting could be as simple as getting up to move every so often. “I typically tell my patients to set an alarm or timer for every 45 minutes,” says Dr. Kemp, but do whatever you can manage with your schedule. If you have time, you can go for a walk or do a few stretches that feel good to you, but even just standing up for a bit can be tremendously helpful for hip pain.
Stay hydrated. Hydration plays an important role in your overall health, including the health of your joints. “We all have fluid in our joints that helps keep them lubricated and full of nutrients, and staying hydrated throughout the day can help with that,” says Dr. Kemp. An added bonus: The more water you drink, the more you’ll have to stand up to refill your glass and, most likely, take bathroom breaks. Those little things may not seem like much, but they can make a big difference when it comes to hip pain.
Consider using a standing desk. Desks that allow you to stand while working can prevent sitting for prolonged periods. If you use a standing desk, remember that your body still needs to move, and staying in the same standing position can lead to pain. “It’s just as important to change positions if your desk can move up and down,” says Dr. Kemp. If you don’t want to invest in a standing desk, you can try propping your laptop up on a taller filing cabinet and working in that position periodically throughout the day.
Change up your sitting posture. This one bears repeating: There is no “perfect” sitting position. What’s most important is to switch up your sitting posture to avoid putting too much strain on your hips. Try to find a few comfortable positions that feel good for you and change up how you’re sitting throughout the day.
Additional Treatments for Hip Pain when Sitting
If the above tweaks aren’t cutting it, hip pain that flares while sitting can often be helped with conservative treatments, such as:
Over-the-counter pain medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for hip pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.
Pain relief creams. Creams and gels applied to the hip area may help manage hip pain when sitting. Some creams and gels work by numbing your muscles and decreasing the pain sensation, while others temporarily reduce inflammation in the painful area.
Ice or heat therapy. Cold therapy can help soothe inflammation in your hip area, especially if the pain is the result of an acute injury, such as tendinitis. If you have osteoarthritis or another chronic condition, heat can help promote relaxation. “I usually tell people to apply cold or heat for 10 or 15 minutes, as they tend to lose their therapeutic benefit after that,” says Dr. Kemp. It may help to play around with which option — ice or heat — feels better for you. More often than not, you’ll intuitively know which feels right for you.
Physical therapy. Regular movement can help keep your joints lubricated, along with strengthening the surrounding muscles to reduce strain on your hips. “If you are having hip pain when sitting, a physical therapist can help assess the issue and provide meaningful exercises to help you feel and function better,” says Dr. Kemp. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
PT-Recommended Hip Stretches
Whenever you take a break from sitting to stand or move around is an excellent opportunity to incorporate some therapeutic stretches and exercises to help alleviate and prevent hip pain. The given exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start if you’re experiencing hip pain when sitting.
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: Set a Hydration Goal
Want to motivate yourself to get up throughout the day to prevent hip pain from sitting? Keep a bottle of water at your desk. “That way, you’ll keep yourself and your joints hydrated, and you’ll need to get up regularly to use the bathroom or refill your glass,” says Dr. Kemp. To hold yourself accountable to your goal, you can try the rubber band trick. If your goal is to drink four bottles of water each day, wrap four rubber bands around the top half of the water bottle. Each time you finish a bottle, move the rubber band to the bottom to help you stay on track.
Learn More About Hinge Health for Hip Pain Relief
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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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Sheth, N. P. & Foran, J. R. H. (2022, February). Hip Bursitis. OrthoInfo — American Academy of orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/hip-bursitis
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Tendinitis. (2017. March 16). Medicine Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/tendinitis.html