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Hip Arthritis Exercises to Help Manage Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 05, 2021 0 Comments

Hip exercise

If you’re struggling with hip arthritis, exercises can help to improve your quality of life. As articular cartilage wears out in the hip joint, it can become increasingly painful, stiff, and difficult to move. Regardless of the type of arthritis you are suffering from, such as osteoarthritis of the hip, ankylosing spondylitis, or rheumatoid arthritis, having an exercise program to better manage your hip arthritis is essential. While it won’t reserve your hip arthritis, it can make symptoms manageable and prevent unnecessary complications such as hip replacement surgery and disability. Keep reading to learn more about exercises for hip arthritis.

Best Exercises for Hip Pain

A well-balanced exercise program for arthritic hip pain focuses on restoring and maintaining range of motion, strength, and overall hip function to provide pain relief, especially when combined with other home treatment options.

More Hip Arthritis Treatments

What you can specifically tolerate will depend on your hip symptoms and current activity level. Remember, you can always schedule a round of physical therapy if you need more guidance.

Range of Motion Exercises

Stiffness and loss of flexibility in the hip are common as arthritis progresses making it feel difficult to complete normal daily activities like standing, squatting, and walking. Try these basic stretches to help maintain range of motion and hip function.

Hip Flexor Half-Kneeling Lunge Stretch

The hip flexors run across the front of the hip and pelvis, and often become stiff with wear of the arthritic hip joint and painful, sometimes progressing to back pain. This hip flexor stretch can give quick relief and promote better hip extension for daily movement.

  • Start in standing and assume a standing lunge position with the leg of the hip you want to stretch in the back
  • Bring your back knee down to the floor, placing a pillow or towel under the knee for comfort if needed
  • Keep an upright posture with the back knee directly under the hip so start; also ensure the front leg is flexed to approximately 90 degrees at both the hip and knee with the knee behind the toes
  • Put your hands on your hips as you shift your weight forward toward the front hip
  • Keep the hips square and avoid arching the back, moving until you feel a stretch across the front of the hip
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each hip

Single Knee to Chest Stretch

This simple hip stretch can give you relief and promote improved hip flexion and help with any symptoms of lower back pain. It is important to start gently and never force the stretch if you feel pain or pinching, especially if there are bone spurs or other abnormalities of the femoral head.

  • Lie on your back with both legs out straight
  • Bring one knee up toward your chest
  • Wrap both hands around your knees
  • Gently pull your thighbone closer to your chest until a stretch is felt in the butt and back of the leg
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets

Hamstring Stretch

 

Incorporating a hamstring stretch into your hip routine is always a good idea. With the hamstrings being notoriously tight with hip arthritis, consistent stretching will help your hip stay as limber as possible.

  • Lie on your back and grab a stretch strap, towel, or belt
  • Wrap the strap around the ball of the foot and hold each end with your hands
  • First, straighten the knee without locking it
  • Then, gently guide your entire straight leg up toward your chest
  • Move until you feel a strong stretch in the back of the thigh
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets

Strengthening Exercises

Try these two exercises to focus on basic hip strength.

Standing Hip Abduction

When starting this single-leg exercise, it’s important to start with support for your safety. Then with time, try to progress to less hand support or even stand on a balance foam pad. This exercise works at stabilizing hip muscles in both the stabilizing and moving leg.

  • Stand near a chair or wall for balance
  • Shift your weight into the leg you will be balancing on
  • Lift the opposite foot off the ground
  • Keeping the free leg straight and an upright posture (no leaning sideways), bring the leg straight out to the side
  • Move as far as you can go without leaning while keeping the toes pointing straight forward 
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg
  • Progress by adding a band or ankle weights and decreasing the level of balance assistance from your hands

If you are struggling with your form or balance, you can also do this movement in side-lying on the floor. 

Standing Hip Extension

This exercise is similar to standing hip abduction above, with a focus on the larger hip muscles like the gluteus maximus. This is a great exercise to complete after your hip flexor stretch to actively move your hip as you gain hip extension flexibility.

  • Stand near a chair or wall for balance
  • Now shift your weight into the leg you will be balancing on first
  • Lift the opposite foot so that it clears the floor
  • Keep your leg straight as you extend it directly behind you
  • Do not arch your back or lean forward as you focus on squeezing your butt
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg
  • You can progress this exercise just like the one listed above

If you are having trouble tolerating this exercise in standing, you can also lie on your stomach or get on your hands and knees and extend your hip from there. 

Balance Exercises

Being able to balance is important for safety and hip function while completing every day activities. Add these exercises to your routine to focus on building better balance.

Side-Stepping

Lateral stepping is a great way to build hip stability, essential for preventing falls and feeling safer with daily activities. This exercise can be started on the ground if indeed, otherwise use a foam pad for an increased challenge.

  • Grab a balance foam pad to get started 
  • Place it on a floor with a non-skid surface underneath for safety
  • Stand to the left side of the foam pad, with your right leg closest to the pad
  • Step toward the opposite side of the foam pad with the right foot
  • Then, step the left foot up so that you are fully standing on the foam pad
  • Next, step your left foot off the right side of the pad and then the right
  • Repeat this same process in the reverse direction
  • Move back and forth 10 times for 2-3 sets total

Marching

Marching in place is a great way to boost standing core strength and exaggerate your hip range of motion and strength. Plus, it challenges your balance.

  • If you are comfortable, grab a balance foam pad and place it on the floor
  • Step up onto the foam pad with your feet approximately hip width apart
  • Tighten your abs and keep an upright posture
  • Lift one leg at a time as high as possible, attempting to reach hip level with your knee
  • Alternate side as if marching
  • Repeat 10 times on each leg for 2-3 sets total

Endurance Exercises

Weight-bearing exercises like squat and lunges are great for building endurance and improving your joint health, but so is low-impact aerobic exercise. Here are some ideas of ways you can get moving that won’t aggravate symptoms.

Walking

There are many benefits of walking for arthritis including optimizing heart, cartilage, and bone health along with achieving weight loss goals. It is one of the simplest ways to get moving and your heart rate up, all you need is a pair of supportive shoes. Here are some tips for walking:

  • How often to walk will depend on your current fitness level. 
  • Always start slow and build your tolerance, even if it’s just 5 minutes to start.
  • Walking outdoors has great benefits for challenging your balance with uneven surfaces.
  • Set a goal of working your way to up to 30 minutes of walking up to 5 times per week to reach the recommended activity level of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

Swimming

For anyone with moderate to severe hip arthritis symptoms, swimming as a great option. Whether it’s swimming laps, aqua jogging, or doing an aerobics class, the buoyancy and warmth of the water can support your joints while you exercise to relieve pain. Plus, swimming boosts joint circulation, reduces joint stiffness, helps with cardiovascular fitness and you should be able to tolerate more time in the water than other forms of exercise. Here are some tips for exercising in the water:

  • You can adjust the intensity as needed depending on how hard you're working.
  • Try to keep your level of effort in the moderate range.
  • As with any exercise, start with what you can tolerate at 5 to 15 minutes and then build from there.
  • Shoot for 30 to 45 minutes up to 3 times per week.

Biking

Jumping on a road bike, mountain bike, or stationary bike are all great options for low-impact exercise. This can equate to building leg and core strength without feeling limited by the onset of joint pain. Like any form of repetitive aerobic exercise, biking can help reduce joint stiffness and boost your overall fitness level and tolerance for daily activity. If balance is a concern, opt for a stationary option at a gym or your home.

Exercises to Avoid

Generally, low-impact exercise is more tolerable for anyone suffering from arthritis. However, there are benefits to incorporating at least some higher impact activities such as walking or even running and jumping. This is because it is now theorized that high-impact activities can stimulate more potential healing in the joint, as long as it isn’t overdone. Thus, there aren’t technically any exercises completely off the table when it comes to your arthritis. It will ultimately depend on your medical history. However, here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Any activity that increases pain or other symptoms for more than 12 hours afterward
  • High impact sports that require sudden changes in direction, such as tennis, basketball, soccer, etc. (although you can work your way into them if you want)
  • Aerobics that involve a lot of jumping, pivoting, and twisting, such as HIIT, dancing, or kickboxing
  • Running, particularly on hard surfaces

Why Exercise is Good for Arthritis

Arthritis pain my deter you from exercising, but did you know lack of physical activity can have long-term consequences and worsen arthritis pain? Here’s what you should know about exercising for arthritis:

  • Finding a balance of exercise and symptom management is essential for living with arthritis while potentially minimizing the need for a future hip replacement surgery.
  • It can also reduce your need for corticosteroid injections, prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or acetaminophen.
  • Exercise can help you lose weight and relieve pressure on your joints.

Getting Started

If you are struggling with exercise or are feeling unsure, consider working closely with a physical therapist to get a personalized treatment plan that optimizes your hip function for years to come.

Exercising with hip arthritis can feel daunting at a glance. However, the best thing you can do yourself is to take the first step and get started. As you make gains in hip strength, flexibility, and endurance, you will be happy you did as you experience better function and less pain. For any concerns or changes in your symptoms, always consult your orthopedic doctor or healthcare professional for further medical advice.

Resources:

https://creakyjoints.org/diet-exercise/exercises-arthritis-hip-pain/

https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/oa-knee-hip-exercises

https://creakyjoints.org/diet-exercise/walking-with-arthritis/

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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