Hip Stiffness: Exercises to Improve Hip Mobility

Hip stiffness can contribute to many painful conditions in and around the hip.  In older adults, limited hip mobility is associated with hip osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and knee osteoarthritis.  In athletes, hip stiffness is linked with hip impingement, labral tears, groin pain, low back pain, and knee pain.

The hip is a large ball and socket joint similar to the shoulder.  Unlike the shoulder joint, the hip socket is much larger than the ball.  Therefore, less mobility is available at the hip in comparison to the shoulder.  Further loss of hip motion can be due to bony changes to the femur or pelvic bone.  Also common, restrictions are due to muscle or joint capsule tightness.  Muscle restrictions are treated with soft tissue techniques and various forms of stretching.  Joint restrictions are best treated with manual therapy techniques performed by a physical therapist.

In order for lasting changes in hip mobility to occur, manual therapy should be combined with self-mobilization exercise.  Self-mobilization exercises can be performed in the home with minimal space or equipment necessary.   The exercises which follow in this article are basic self-mobilization techniques which can be easily performed at home or your local gym.

Self-mobilization exercises should not be performed by people with a recent fracture, recent surgery, or any type of systemic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis.   Also those on blood clotting medication and those experiencing worsening of symptoms should only perform these exercises under direction of a physical therapist.

Prone Figure-4 Hip Self-Mobilization

The figure-4 self-mobilization can be helpful for people with limited hip external rotation.  Those who experience difficulty putting on their shoes and socks often benefit from this exercise.  It can also improve hip extension which can translate into improved walking or running ability.  When performing this exercise it is important to activate the abdominal muscles to avoid arching the low back.

Quadruped Hip Internal Rotation with Lateral Distraction

Limitations in hip internal rotation are characteristic of many hip problems.  Any sport that requires squatting, pivoting, planting and cutting require hip internal rotation.  By using a belt or band to distract the hip joint, greater hip internal rotation is available.  Be sure to place the band or belt deep into the groin to optimize the stretch.

Quadruped Rock Back with Hip Posterior Glide

Rock backs are used to promote the posterior glide of the femur and to stretch the back of the hip. Passive hip flexion is performed to facilitate this motion. Passive motion is preferred over active motion to alleviate the influence of the hip flexor muscles.  By using a belt or band to distract the hip joint, greater hip flexion is available.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Self-Mobilization

Limited hip extension flexibility is one possible cause of an increased anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar lordosis during running.   This pattern stresses the structures of the low back and hip.  Combing this self-mobilization technique with abdominal strengthening exercises can alleviate low back and hip pain.

Standing Posterior-Lateral Hip Self-Mobilization

Tightness in the back of the hip can contribute to pain in the front of the hip or groin.  Stretching this region may be painful for some.  By using a belt or band to distract the hip joint, greater hip motion is available without pain.  If pain is experienced during the self-mobilization, adjust the height of the step or shift more weight onto the opposite leg.

Closing Thoughts

Self-mobilization exercises are best performed after a dynamic warm-up.  Muscles and joint structures are easily stretched when body temperature is elevated and the nervous system is activated.  Self-mobilization exercises should result in a mild to moderate stretching sensation.  Minimal or no pain should be experienced. Muscle re-education and strengthening exercises should always be performed once new range of motion has been gained.  Finally, it takes consistency and time to achieve lasting gains.