Our daily lives consist of a lot of time spent in a seated position. Whether we are sitting at a desk, eating our meals, bingeing the latest series (or old one-Hello Gilmore Girls!), or driving to work, we are often sitting for long periods of time. Spending so much of our time sitting isn’t great for the low back and it can also lead to hip pain, sciatica pain, and overall serious discomfort.
When we are sitting, our hips are in a state of flexion (bent). As a result, the muscles around the hip joints are shortening more often than they naturally should. This shortening can cause tight hips.
The hips are our most powerful muscle group, responsible for flexing as we are bringing the knees to the chest, extending as we kick the leg back, abducting (moving the leg out to the side), adducting (moving the leg back to center), and internal and external rotation. It takes this full functionality of many muscles, tendons, and ligaments to enable movement in all these directions. Maintaining this mobility is very important for healthy posture as we go about our day – walking, running, sitting, playing, and generally moving about.
Other important and powerful muscles are connected to your hips. The quadriceps in the front of your thighs, your glutes, and your hamstrings at the back of your thighs. These muscles can easily become imbalanced as a result of our normal everyday living. Sitting OR standing for long periods of time, wearing high heels frequently, carrying a heavy bag on one side, can all shift the body’s balance. The glutes often are weaker compared to the quads as we tend to use the quads more in our normal daily activities. This can pull your hips out of alignment, stressing the surrounding muscles. In addition, the hips are often tipped forward in many of these common positions—leading to an unnatural forward tilt of the pelvis, too much curvature of the lower back, and compression of the low back vertebrae. All of this can lead to discomfort, stiffness, and sometimes persistent pain.
Yoga helps to strengthen and stabilize your entire hip joint while gently stretching and lengthening the surrounding tendons and ligaments. This helps increase your hip’s ability to fully move about in the entire range of motion. Yoga also relieves the stress that comes with being in general pain, helping you to balance both the body and mind.
Try these Yoga Poses for Stiff Hips
This is a good warm-up stretch as you begin to increase your hip flexibility.
HOW TO: Sitting on the floor, bend your right knee and lift your right leg up so that you can wrap your right arm around your knee and your left arm around your right foot (cradling your leg like a baby).
You can move gently from side to side or in circles, exploring the range of motion in your hip joint. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides.
This is a great yoga pose to help increase range of motion in the hip joints.
HOW TO: Come to a tabletop position on all fours. With your knee bent, lift your right knee off the ground and start to make small circles from the right hip. Gradually move from smaller to bigger circles and then switch directions. After about 30 seconds, switch sides and repeat on the left.
This is a great stretch for the hips! HOW TO: From a seated position with your legs out long in front of you, place your right foot on the ground outside of your left leg. Bring your right hand to the ground behind your back, and use it to help keep your back upright, lengthening your spine. Then, hug your right knee with your left forearm as you twist your torso to the right. As an option, the head/gaze can work its way over the right shoulder to take the twist into the upper spine. If you want to go deeper, hook your left elbow outside of your right knee. For tight hips, you can modify by sitting on the edge of a blanket. Hold for 5-10 breaths then switch sides. Bridge Pose Bridge pose stretches (and lengthens) the hip flexors, strengthens the legs and extends the spine. HOW TO: Come to your back, block nearby (if you have one – if not no worries!). Make sure your feet are underneath your knees then put the block between your thighs if using. With your arms long beside your body, palms facing down, start to squeeze into the block. Continue to squeeze the block as you lift your hips off the ground, coming into bridge pose. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths then slowly release down and rest. Reclined Butterfly Pose This is a nice stretch for the hips and the groin area. HOW TO: Lie on your back. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees open out to the sides. If your hips feel tight, place a block under each knee for support. Hold this pose for at least 10 breaths, then very gently bring the knees back together.
Listening for Clues
The most important thing to remember as you stretch is to listen to your body. This will help you avoid injury and protect yourself as you do yoga. If you feel a sharp, stabbing, pinpoint-like pain in any pose, come out of it and try a less intense pose or variation. Another clue that a pose is too deep is your breath. If you notice your breath has become shorter and shallow, or you feel like you can’t get a good deep, slow breath, the pose is too intense at this point in your practice. This can vary by day, by hour, by minute, depending on your recent activities, so make it a practice to notice your breath and how you feel. The goal is to feel good in your practice, even as you stretch and work your hips. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some effort and some sensations that come up, but you should be able to breathe and work gently through the minor discomfort that arises. If not, take a break, talk to your doctor, or come to a live yoga class for personalized guidance.