Build your butt strength

Some exercises to strengthen the hips and lower back

Lunging hip flexor stretch. Photographs: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Lunging hip flexor stretch. Photographs: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

This 20-something business executive travels regularly. Recently she was on a long-haul flight. When she got up to de-board, she felt a sharp pinch in the front of her left hip. The pinch returned every time she put her left foot down but disappeared when she lifted it off the ground. She managed to walk to the baggage carousel with great difficulty. She had some painkillers and managed to reach her hotel. The pain eased off eventually but she found that she was not able to do many of the yoga poses as it hurt in the hip region. Her yoga instructor suggested that she consult a doctor.

Her X-rays did not show any abnormality; she was prescribed painkillers and advised to consult a physiotherapist for treatment and rehabilitation exercises. The physiotherapist did an assessment and felt that her pain was mechanical in nature, explaining that the muscle balance in her hips was incorrect and that the joints were not moving correctly.

Sitting for long hours can lead to negative side effects, like lower back and hip pain. The muscles on the front and across the back of the hip become tight, making the movement difficult and painful. This stiffness progresses to a point that the movements became so restricted that the thigh bone and pelvic bones do not line up well. This leads to the pinching of soft tissues like ligaments, tendons and joint capsules in and around the hip. This soft tissue impingement was the real source of the pain in the woman’s case and needed to be corrected. 

Her treatment programme included exercises to help strengthen her lower back and hips. The physiotherapist used manual therapy techniques like massage and joint mobilization to accelerate the recovery by increasing joint motion and relaxing muscle spasm.

The executive worked with her physiotherapist for about 10 sessions, spaced out every two-three days. In less than a month, she was back to enjoying her yoga classes. She has even incorporated many of the stretches and strengthening exercises in her yoga routine to make sure the hips stay flexible and her long hours of sitting in the office don’t stiffen the muscles again. She now chooses one of the foam-rolling exercises as a warm-up before each yoga session.

If you are experiencing similar pain symptoms, here are some exercises you could try. Remember to consult an orthopaedic surgeon or a physiotherapist if you have any pain.


Lunging hip flexor stretch

This exercise helps stretch the muscles in the front of the hip that become stiff because of sitting for too long.

Start by kneeling on the floor with a soft cushion under your knees. Lift your left knee up and step forward with that leg so that your left foot is as far out in front of you as your flexibility will allow. Shift your body weight forward over this leg while maintaining your right knee on the cushion and keeping your back straight. While your body weight is moving forward over your front leg, you will feel an increase in the tension of the front muscles of your right hip. Hold this stretch for 40-60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.

For a more detailed description, watch the YouTube video

Foam-rolling outer hip

Use the foam roller or a hockey ball to massage the muscles on the outer part of the hip. To find the right area to massage, lie on the foam roller so that the front of your hip that corresponds to the spot where the pocket of your jeans would be, is directly over the roller. From this position, turn your pelvis sideways so that the foam roller rolls to the outer part of the hip between your hip bone and the pelvic bone. Roll around on the roller in this region for 2-3 minutes to massage the muscles.

For a detailed description, watch the YouTube video

Foam-rolling back hip

Once you have completed foam-rolling of the outer hip, roll your pelvis until you have turned yourself right over and the roller is pressing into the back of your hip. You will find yourself in a sitting position. Lift the foot of the leg that you are massaging on to the opposite knee so that the outside of the foot rests on the top of the opposite leg’s bent knee. This will increase the efficacy of the massaging technique and relax the muscles on the back of the hip. Roll around on the foam roller in this region for 2-3 minutes to massage the muscles in this area and decrease any muscle spasm or tightness.

For a detailed description, watch the YouTube video

Heath Matthews is a sports physiotherapist at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai.

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