Hip Arthritis: What It Is and Which Exercises Can Help
Arthritis is a common condition that affects various parts of people’s bodies. A specific form of this condition, hip osteoarthritis, affects about 1 out of 4 people throughout their lives, although there are several other forms that can occur. If you’re a senior living with hip arthritis (or if you’re caring for one), it’s especially important to educate yourself about ways to reduce your pain levels.
What is Arthritis?
To understand more about the pain in your hip, you’ll need to first understand what arthritis is in general. Mayo Clinic defines arthritis as “swelling and tenderness of one or more joints.” Four common types of arthritis include:
Osteoarthritis is characterized by the wearing down of articular cartilage (joint surface cartilage). By far, osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis. Of all the major joints in the body, the hip is the second most likely to be affected.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that “attacks” a person’s joints. A person may experience pain in their hands or knees, but rheumatoid arthritis of the hip is also possible. This disease typically appears in conjunction with other symptoms such as fatigue, joint stiffness, and pain that occurs in the same place on both sides of the body (for example, both hips).
Another type of arthritis is called psoriatic arthritis. People with the skin condition psoriasis have about a 30% chance of becoming affected by this form of arthritis, although even people without psoriasis can get psoriatic arthritis. Like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s an inflammatory disease. People often experience eye pain and swollen digits.
While gout is typically associated with pain in the big toe, this type of arthritis can also affect the hip joint. Caused by large amounts of serum urate, the resulting crystal formation leads to joint pain.
Who Get Hip Arthritis and Why?
As the list of arthritis forms above suggests, there are many different reasons someone may develop hip arthritis. For example, some people develop psoriatic arthritis after an area of their body has been injured. Other times, genetics play a role. Osteoarthritis develops over time, as it’s considered a degenerative disease. In other words, it’s often simply a result of aging, as the cartilage wears down as the body gets older.
People can also develop hip arthritis due to obesity, childhood hip diseases, or simply due to the shape of their hips.
Exercises to Relieve Pain From Hip Arthritis
Did you know that around 80% of adults in the United States don’t get enough aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise on a regular basis? Exercise is as important for older adults as it is for younger ones, but when you’re battling hip pain, it can be difficult to find the right exercise regimen.
The experts at the University of Washington Medicine Department cite several reasons that it’s particularly important for people with arthritis to exercise. Preventing joints from stiffening up, maintaining the health of bone and cartilage tissue, and strengthening the muscles that surround your joints are all essential to preventing additional damage to your hips.
Fortunately, exercises exist to alleviate some of the pain from hip arthritis. Keep in mind that you should always consult with your doctor before beginning any new form of physical activity or changing your exercise routine, especially if you’re having any pain.
Maintaining a proper exercise schedule can reduce hip pain that gets worse after sitting for long periods of time or that occurs during a regular activity like walking or standing.
The low-impact nature of a water aerobics class makes it a great way to exercise without stressing your joints. Water aerobics classes are a popular choice for seniors because there are few risks involved with slips during the class, compared to the hard concrete floor of many gyms. The benefits of water aerobics are plentiful, including improving balance, strengthening muscles, and getting aerobic exercise.
Many participants even note pain relief due to the water’s ability to “lift” weight off the joints. Most classes don’t require you to know how to swim, although you’ll want to check with your instructor ahead of time.
Consider enrolling in a tai chi class, which is a type of slow, gentle martial art. Tai chi is a common go-to activity for seniors because it’s been known to reduce the risk of falling by 60%.
If you prefer to follow along with a session virtually, you can find many sessions posted on YouTube through a quick search. Senior centers or your local YMCA may even offer classes for free or for a discount.
Yoga’s a popular form of exercise that is simple to modify. There are varying levels of yoga, so be sure you’re doing poses that are appropriate for your level of activity. Inform your instructor of your hip pain before the class begins, and they can prompt you with modifications to reduce stress on your hips.
Try some range of motion exercises once or twice a day to help your joint pain. For example, a hamstring stretch can help with sore hips. Lie flat on your back with both legs stretched out in front of you. Bend the leg with the affected hip so that your foot is flat on the ground. Using a towel, gently pull your thigh towards you while you straighten the leg straight in the air.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Another range of motion exercise for hip arthritis is a hip flexor stretch. To perform this exercise, stand up straight with your arms at your side. Step forward with the non-affected leg and bend it slightly until you feel a stretch in your affected hip, keeping the foot flat on the ground. Keep your affected leg flat on the ground behind you.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
A standing quadriceps stretch can be performed if you have a chair or countertop nearby. Stand in front of the chair and hold on to it with one hand. Bend the opposite leg and pull the foot behind you, near your buttocks. Hold the foot for 10-30 seconds and release. Switch to the opposite leg.
The clamshell exercise is a good option for seniors who want to open their hips a bit more. Lie on one side and bend your legs at a 45° angle. Keep your knees on top of one another while also keeping your hips stacked. Slowly lift the top knee up a couple of inches without twisting (only your knee should raise). Do this a few times and then switch to the other side.
Bridges are an easy exercise that can help with hip arthritis. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your feet and shoulders on the ground while you lift up your buttocks. Be sure not to arch your back as you do this.
The one-leg balance exercise can help seniors improve their balance while also helping with functional activities like entering and exiting a vehicle. Stand behind a chair. Try to not hold onto the chair while you carefully lift one foot off the ground and hold for 20 seconds. Perform this exercise twice on each side.
Standing Leg Raise
You’ll also need a chair for this one. Holding onto the back of the chair, lift one leg to the side and hold in the air for three seconds. Lower the leg and repeat for a set of 10. Do one more repetition before switching to the other side.
Side Leg Raise
For this exercise, you’ll lie on one side with both legs straight out. Keep your hips stacked on top of one another and raise the top leg a couple of inches. Lower the leg slowly. Do this 10 times before switching to the other side.
The elliptical machine isn’t for everyone, as a good sense of balance is required to use it safely. If your doctor gives you the green light to try it out, consider it for a low-impact exercise.
Exercises to Avoid If You Have Hip Arthritis
You’ll want to avoid jumping straight into the above exercises. Instead, it’s vital that you warm up, slowly stretching your muscles to help prevent injury. Try doing three or so repetitions of these warmup exercises:
- Stretching towards your toes but not touching them
- Side stretches
- Arm circles
- Shoulder shrugs
Additionally, it’s important to avoid any exercises that cause a sharp pain or pain that feels deep within your hip joint.
When you’re dealing with hip arthritis, stay away from high-impact exercises like running. Instead, swimming can reduce the impact on your hip joints. Likewise, walking or bicycling can also be gentler on the hips, but depending on the severity of your pain, they may not be a good fit for you.
Exercise Equipment List
There are plenty of hip arthritis exercises you can do without any special equipment, but there are a few items you may find helpful to have on hand.
- Sneakers with a good grip to prevent slips
- Cushioning insoles to reduce impact
- Hot packs and ice packs for soothing sore hips
- Yoga mat to reduce pressure on joints
- Water bottle to stay hydrated
What If Exercises Don’t Help My Hip Arthritis?
Speak with your doctor if your exercise regimen isn’t improving your symptoms. Sometimes, doctors recommend additional measures to treat hip arthritis. They may recommend you take a pain-relieving medication like Tylenol, or they may choose to prescribe non-steroidal, non-inflammatory medications to use on a short-term basis.
Cortisone injections can sometimes alleviate pain as can wearing a hip sleeve, a compression device to support your hip. Using crutches or a cane can also help some people. Sometimes, surgery can be a last resort. Your physician will assist you with finding the best solution for your hip pain.
If a doctor has diagnosed you with hip arthritis, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to feel pain indefinitely. Consult with your doctor about appropriate exercises, including reviewing any of the above exercises with them. Remember to immediately stop an exercise if you feel any sharp pain, have difficulty breathing, or if your joints experience any redness.
1. Arthritis By The Numbers, Arthritis, www.arthritis.org
2. Arthritis, Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org
3. Osteoarthritis of the Hip, University of Washington Medicine, orthop.washington.edu
4. Rheumatoid Arthritis, CDC, www.cdc.gov
5. About Psoriatic Arthritis, Psoriasis, www.psoriasis.org
6. Gout, National Institute of Health, www.niams.nih.gov
7. Simple Exercises to Relieve Osteoarthritis Pain, Palm Beach State University, www.palmbeachstate.edu
8. Aquatic Exercise for Older Adults, Wayne State University, cphs.wayne.edu
9. Exercise and Arthritis, University of Washington Medicine, orthop.washington.edu
10. Taking Control of Your Osteoarthritis, Department of Veterans Affairs, www.healthquality.va.gov
11. The Best Types of Exercise When You Have Hip or Knee Pain, Harvard University, www.health.harvard.edu
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