If you suffer from hip pain, you are not alone. One study found that roughly fourteen percent of people over the age of sixty reported significant hip pain on most days, while more than eighteen percent of inactive seniors reported severe hip pain in the previous month.
Hip pain can lead to difficulty with bending, walking, putting on shoes, and other daily activities. Even if you’re experiencing some of these challenges, there are many things you can do to keep your hips mobile, strong, and healthy to reduce your risk of pain in the future.
Today we’ll explore your options, and introduce some easy hip exercises for seniors to keep hip pain at bay. (1)
Maintaining Healthy Hips
Pain and dysfunction may be the result of several problems including osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, bursitis, nerve impingement, or recent injury (such as falls or hip fractures) at the hip joint.
Focusing on your hip health early can help reduce the risk of pain and problems in the future. Body weight management, exercise, and a diet that prioritizes strength and bone health are all important factors to consider when building healthy hips.
Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to reduce hip pain in your day-to-day life, as well as some hip-strengthening exercises to keep you feeling strong and healthy.
Note: If you are in severe pain, it may be best to consult with a health care provider such as a physical therapist or your doctor to best address your condition before you follow this or any other exercise advice.
Body Weight Management
Being overweight can have a negative effect on your joint health, especially in the joints that carry your weight like your back, hips, and knees.
Managing or losing weight can be one of the best strategies to keep your joints healthy.
Staying active with fun and enjoyable exercises is a great way to help manage your weight. Exercises that will get your heart rate up, such as walking, hiking, or biking, can be especially beneficial for burning calories.
A healthy, balanced diet is vital for weight management. If you are trying to lose weight, focus on dietary changes that are manageable long-term.
It’s also important to note that “crash” diets– or diets that ask you to make unreasonable changes– can be unhealthy and are not typically sustainable for most people.
In general, a combination of heart-healthy cardiovascular exercise, combined with a well-balanced and sustainable diet is an excellent place to start your journey back to hip health.
Eating Well to Prevent Joint Pain
Outside of managing your weight, nutrition can also be helpful in providing the building block for improving bone health.
Your body– and especially your bones– need calcium. If there is not enough of the mineral in your diet, your body will start breaking down bones for calcium, degrading your bone health over time.
Women over the age of fifty should consume 1200mg and men to have 1000-1200mg of calcium per day. Foods high in calcium include dairy products (milk, yogurt), nuts, beans, and leafy greens. (3)
Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium from your diet. Sunlight is one of the greatest sources of vitamin D but it can also be added to your diet in some foods, like salmon, or vitamin D-fortified milk.
Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D and calcium is right for you. (3)
What Are Weight-Bearing Activities?
Like a muscle, bone can become stronger when challenged with weight-bearing activities or strength-building exercises. Bone density typically peaks in your thirties and can degrade with each following decade.
Strength exercise is especially important for the bones in and around your hips.
Regular bone-strengthening exercises can help to maintain and even improve bone mass. Weight-bearing activities include anything that requires you to carry weight through your arms or legs against gravity. (2)
This could include activities like walking, aerobics, climbing stairs, tennis, hiking, yoga, or even dancing. Once again, it’s important to choose activities that you like to do and can perform safely.
If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, it can be best to perform low-impact activities (walking, or yoga) compared to high-impact activities like running or jumping so that your bones can rebuild gradually and safely. (2)
Healthy Hips: Hip Exercises for Seniors
Hip strengthening exercises should focus on mobility, strength, and stability.
Keeping your hips flexible helps to ensure you are able to do basic daily activities, like bending over or lifting your foot to put your shoe on.
Strength in the muscles surrounding the hip can help reduce pressure on the hip joint. Staying healthy and strong is necessary for movements like lifting your grandchildren, or even climbing stairs.
Finally, better balance helps reduce the risk of falls to help prevent future injuries.
Let’s look at some hip exercises for seniors to keep your hip muscles strong, flexible, and ready to move, pain-free.
Mobility Exercises for Seniors
Quadruped Rock Back
This is a warmup to get the hip flexors moving and to give your glute muscles and low back a gentle stretch.
Start on hands and knees.
Slowly rock your hips back as if to gently lower your hips to your heels. Keep your arms out in front of you. Hold for a few seconds then return to all fours position. Complete 10-15 times.
If you cannot kneel on your knees, an alternative would be laying on your back with your knees bent and your heels on a large yoga ball.
Lie on your back with a cushion or yoga block under the back of your head to support your neck. Start with your legs extended, and slightly bent knees.
Gradually roll the ball in so both knees come closer to your chest as if you are trying to bring the ball closer to you. Hold briefly then relax back to the starting position.
Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a stretch sequence for the hip flexors– the muscles in the front of your hip where you bend to sit in a chair.
Start in a kneeling lunge position with one knee on the ground, and the other foot flat on the floor in front of you. The knee that is on the ground is the leg you will be stretching.
Gradually shift your torso forward over your front leg until you feel a stretch around the front of the knee-down leg. Be sure not to arch your back by keeping your abdominal core muscles engaged.
If you are unable to kneel, try this same stretch while standing in a lunge position with your back leg straight. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Complete 2-3 repetitions on each side.
This is a series of hip stretches for your outer hips, thighs, and your low back.
Start laying on your back and bend one leg so your foot is flat on the floor.
Cross your other leg so your foot is resting on your knee.
For a greater stretch, pick your foot up off the floor and pull it in closer to your chest while keeping the figure 4 position with the other foot.
Alternatively, try this exercise while sitting. Cross one foot over your opposite knee. To deepen the stretch, lean forward at your waist. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Complete 2-3 repetitions on each side.
Strengthening Exercises for Seniors
This movement will help to strengthen your outer hip muscles (the hip abductors) to support the stability in the hip joints.
Note: If you have balance trouble, perform this exercise along your countertop.
Keep your hips facing the same direction as your toes and take a moderately large step to the side.
Complete for 15 steps, then take 15 steps back to the starting point.
To make it more challenging, try adding a resistance band around the top of your knees. Push your knees out against the resistance while side-stepping.
This exercise targets the large gluteus muscles on your backside, which will help to prevent back pain and injury
Start laying on your side with your hips and knees bent.
Keep your feet together and lift your top leg, separating at the knees (like a clam shell opening). You should feel your outer hip muscles working.
For a greater challenge, try adding a resistance band around the tops of your knees. Complete sets of 10-12 repetitions. This exercise will strengthen hip external rotation.
Reverse Clam Shell
This exercise targets the hip flexor muscles on the front-outer hip which can be an area that is often lacking strength.
Start in the same position as the last exercise.
This time keep your knees together and separate at your feet. You can move the resistance band to your ankles to make it more challenging for this one. This exercise will strengthen hip internal rotation.
This exercise targets hip flexibility, and strength for the glute muscles, while also strengthening the abdominal muscles and the low back.
Lay on your back and bend both knees, placing your feet flat on the ground.
Squeeze the muscles in your buttocks and lift your hips off the ground. Do not arch your back. Pause at the top then lower. Repeat.
Balance Exercise for Seniors
Balance can be one of the single most important styles of exercise for hip health.
Try this simple balance exercise to begin working on one of the most important hip-strengthening exercises you can do.
Single Leg Balance
Shift your weight to one leg and gradually try to lift the other off the floor. Try to keep your pelvis level, preventing either hip from dropping. Hold for as long as you can
For an added challenge: try to hold your balance on one foot while lifting the opposite leg straight in the following directions: forward, sideways, and back.
Be sure this is a controlled lift, not a leg swing. Imagine you are drawing a large half-circle around your body with your straight leg.
Complete 10 repetitions in each direction before switching legs.
Hip pain can be a common condition as you age but there are many things you can do to help keep your hips healthy and pain free.
If you have already been diagnosed or are currently having moderate or severe pain, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist regarding which strategies will be best for you.
Christmas C, Crespo CJ, Franckowiak SC, Bathon JM, Bartlett SJ, Andersen RE. How common is hip pain among older adults? Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. J Fam Pract. 2002 Apr;51(4):345-8. PMID: 11978258.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease. Exercise for Your Bone Health. National Institute of Health. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health
Godman, Heidi. Essential Nutrients Your Body Needs for Building Bone. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/essential-nutrients-your-body-needs-for-building-bone
Reinold, Mike. Assessing and Treating Dysfunction of the Gluteus Medius. MikeReinold.com. 2008, Dec. https://mikereinold.com/gluteus-medius-evaluation-strengthening/