Hip Arthritis: 5 Helpful Exercises

Hip arthritis is a condition where the protective cartilage of your joint surfaces break down.  Cartilage serves as a pad or cushion to your bone beneath it.  Arthritis can occur on the end of your thigh bone (ball), pelvis (socket), or both.  This exposes  bare bone within your joint. Physicians use the phrase “bone on bone”.  However, this sounds much worse than it actually is.

bone on bone

Hip arthritis does not always lead to pain.  Also, “severe” arthritis viewed on x-rays may cause you only mild pain.  Likewise, mild arthritis may result in more pain.  The experience of pain is more complex than simply “bone on bone”.   Joint inflammation, joint stiffness, muscle weakness, muscle tightness, and changes within your nervous system can contribute to pain experienced from hip arthritis.

Symptoms of Hip Arthritis

Hip arthritis typically affects people over 50 years of age.  Common symptoms include stiffness early in the morning or after you begin walking after a long period of sitting.  You feel pain in your groin.  You can also have pain in the back of your hip, the side of  your hip, or radiate down your thigh towards your knee.  Your pain is generally worse with weight-bearing activities (e.g., walking, standing, or twisting).  Most people experience “flare-ups” of increased pain and stiffness interspersed with periods of little or no pain.

Physical Therapy for Hip Arthritis

Recent research shows several types of exercise are effective for improving pain, function, and quality of life in people with hip arthritis.  This includes aerobic exercise, mind-body exercise, strengthening exercise and stretching.  Manual therapy performed by your physical therapist is also a proven treatment.

Common forms of mind-body exercise are tai chi and yoga.  These exercises are low to moderate intensity with slow movements.  Emphasis is placed on an intentional awareness (mindfulness) of your breathing.  Physical therapists incorporate these principles when prescribing exercise for people with hip arthritis.  Those seeking more concentrated instruction in these forms of exercise are referred elsewhere – Hot or Not Yoga and the Bay Avenue Community Center.

Research supports aerobic exercise for people with hip arthritis. Regular walking for 30 minutes five days per week is recommended.  Continuous walking is preferred but if you are unable to perform one 30-minute walk, multiple shorter walks totaling 30 minutes are fine.  Your physical therapist will help you begin and progress your individualized walking program.  Cycling, swimming, and other forms of aerobic exercise are also very beneficial.  However, walking programs show the greatest improvements.

Muscle strengthening exercises are very important for people with arthritis.  The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles are often targeted.  These muscles are important for walking, climbing stairs, and transferring from sitting to standing.  Weakness of your hip muscles results in increased forces through your hip joint.  Also strengthening the core muscles will improve your ability to function in every day life.  Common exercises prescribed includes bridging, the clam shell, and hip extension exercises.

3 Strengthening Exercises for Hip Arthritis

Stretches for Hip Arthritis

Hip arthritis leads to stiffness of your hip joint capsule and ligaments.  Your surrounding muscles shorten further limiting your range of motion.  Stretching exercises to improve hip extension and rotation range of motion are important to restore your normal walking patterns.  Common exercises prescribed include hip flexor stretching and self-mobilizations for hip internal rotation.

Exercise for Hip Arthritis

Hip arthritis does not have to be disabling.  Exercise will improve your pain, function, and quality of life.  Many people are unsure how to start and what type of exercise is best for their personal goals.  Meet with your physical therapist to develop an individualized exercise program that meets your needs.  Call us and get started.


1.  Goh SL, Persson MSM, Stocks J, et al. Relative efficacy of different exercises for pain, function, performance, and quality of life in knee and hip osteoarthritis: Systematic review and network meta ‑analysis. Sports Med. 2019;49(5):743-761.

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