Best Treatments and Exercises for Sore Hips When Walking, According to Physical Therapists
Learn about what can cause sore hips when walking and how to prevent and treat sore hips, especially with exercises from physical therapists.
All of your joints play an important role in your everyday functioning, and your hips — among the largest joints in the body — are no exception. So you can imagine how experiencing hip pain can quickly interfere with everyday tasks like sitting, running, exercising, and sleeping.
Hip pain can also happen when you’re walking. You may notice a pinching pain in the front of your hip, on one or both sides, or when your leg stretches behind you or swings forward. Hip pain when walking can also trigger pain in other areas. “If your hips aren’t fully stable, you may use your low back for support or put more force on one leg, which can contribute to back or knee pain,” says Cody Anderson, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
While hip pain when walking is common, it’s not something you have to simply accept, especially if it limits your ability to be active and accomplish everyday activities. Thankfully there’s a lot you can do at home to manage hip pain when walking — especially by incorporating exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Cody Anderson, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
What Can Cause Hip Pain When Walking?
Ever wonder why your hip hurts when you walk, but maybe not so much when you do other activities? There can be a lot of contributors, including:
Osteoarthritis (OA). Like other areas of your body, it’s normal for your hips to change with age. In the case of osteoarthritis, your cartilage — the shock-absorbing material in joints — changes and loses volume. While many people don’t notice this, it can certainly contribute to pain and stiffness for some people, especially during or after walking.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation. In the case of hip arthritis, RA triggers inflammation of the capsule surrounding the hip joint, causing the release of substances that affect the cartilage over time.
Tendinitis. This condition occurs when the thick bands of tissue known as tendons that connect your hip muscles to bones become irritated.
Bursitis. Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between bones and soft tissues. If either of the two major bursae in your hip becomes inflamed, you may notice tenderness, especially during certain activities like walking.
Muscle or tendon strains. Movement is one of the best ways to prevent and address hip pain, but too much repetitive motion (such as from running or riding a bike) without incorporating the right stretching, strengthening, and cross-training activities can strain the muscles and tendons in your hips.
How Can I Treat Hip Pain When Walking?
Just as there are a lot of potential contributors to hip pain when walking, there are many different techniques you can try to minimize and prevent pain, such as:
Work with a physical therapist. A lot of times, hip pain when walking is influenced by muscle imbalances. A physical therapist can work with you to find the right combination of stretching and strengthening exercises that target the structures in and around your hips to make your joints more resilient to walking motions. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
Mix it up. Generally speaking, your body likes variety. And although movement is incredibly good for all aspects of your health, including your joint health, incorporating variety into your walking routine can be helpful for hip pain. Try changing the pace or duration of your walks for a while to see if it gives your hips some relief. You could also consider doing other aerobic activities for your exercise temporarily, such as biking or swimming. Assuming you carry on with your day-to-day routine (which you should!) you’ll still be challenging your hip muscles with light, sporadic walking.
Hot or cold therapy. Both ice and heat can be useful in managing hip pain when walking, says Dr. Anderson. Ice is usually used for new injuries, whereas people usually address tension with heat. That said, Dr. Anderson recommends using whatever feels good to you. “If you have a preference, it may work better because you’re more likely to relax into it,” he says.
Over-the-counter (OTC) 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 reduce pain temporarily. Some work by numbing your muscles, which can dull the pain sensation. Others work by reducing inflammation in the affected area.
Massage therapy. Therapeutic massage can increase blood flow to the muscles around your hips, which may help tackle inflammation and pain in the area. Just remember that it’s important to also incorporate techniques like movement and stretching.
Check your shoes. Different types of shoes work for different people, but if your shoes are worn out or don’t provide a good level of support for you, they may contribute to your hip pain when walking. “If your shoes are worn out, your feet may walk differently, and that can affect how your hips are moving,” says Dr. Anderson. A physical therapist can help you assess whether it might be time to shop for new shoes.
Try out a different terrain. If you find yourself walking on the same surface, such as hard concrete, exploring different terrains may offer your hips some relief when walking. Some surfaces, such as uneven ones, cause your hips to work harder when you step up or down and could lead to more discomfort. You could try walking on grass, an outdoor track, or a treadmill and see if you notice a difference. If you do, it’s a good reminder to be mindful of mixing up your walking route when possible.
When It Comes to Hip Pain, Movement Is Medicine
While all of the above steps can help hip pain when walking, one of the most effective is exercise therapy. Exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding your hips (such as your glutes and quads) and your hips themselves can help prevent and manage hip pain when walking. “Exercises can help strengthen your muscles so they can keep you in a good walking position,” says Dr. Anderson.
The exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. Try incorporating those stretches into your day, either before or after walking.
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.
How to Prevent Hip Pain When Walking
Some people experience hip pain flares sporadically that affect their ability to walk comfortably. The following steps can help you prevent the pain from occurring in the first place so you can keep moving with your daily life:
Strengthen your core and lower body. Strengthening the areas above and below your hips can help you maintain control when walking and prevent pain from setting in. Your core (above your hips) helps stabilize and control your pelvic movements. “If your core isn’t strong enough, it’s harder to control the pelvis from above,” says Dr. Anderson. “Your hips drop and have to do more work to keep your pelvis level, which can cause pain.”
Posture adjustment. Although there’s no such thing as perfect posture when it comes to sitting and standing, your movement posture when walking may be important if you’re prone to hip pain. As an experiment, try to keep your feet pointed forward and your pelvis level when you walk. If your pain flares stay at bay, it may be a sign that your walking posture or technique makes a difference in your hip pain.
Stretching. “With tight muscles, we don’t move as well,” says Dr. Anderson. Stretching your hip flexor and glute muscles can encourage longer strides, which can help prevent pain.
When to See a Physical Therapist
Hip pain when walking usually isn’t serious and often resolves on its own with exercise and home remedies. But there are a few scenarios in which Dr. Anderson recommends reaching out to a medical provider for help, including:
Your hip pain gets substantially worse in spite of stretching and strengthening exercises and interferes with your daily activities.
Your limbs start to feel numb.
You develop pain in your lower back and legs.
Another sign to check in with your physical therapist is sharp pain when you work on hip strengthening exercises. “Soreness is okay, especially when you start a new program. But sharp pain may be a signal that you should be moving differently,” says Dr. Anderson. A PT can help assess that and modify your exercise plan accordingly.
PT Tip: Ease Into It
If standing exercises and walking are unbearable, Dr. Anderson recommends starting with exercises on the ground (like clamshells and bridges!) and working your way up. But expect a little bit of discomfort at first. “Just remember: Working through a little pain can be good because you learn not to avoid movement and help promote long-term healing,” he says.
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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