Hip mobility is as important as back flexibility when it comes to movement and the ability to go about your normal daily activities without restrictions. Regularly performing simple hip stretches that keep your hip muscles and connective tissues limber will have a positive impact not only on your hips and pelvis, but also on your knees and your back!
In fact, hip stretches may be more important in relieving back pain and knee pain than exercises that specifically target the back or the knees.
Stretching the hips should be done on a regular basis to have the biggest impact on your health and well-being. The hip mobility exercises that we’ve included below will help you become more balanced and more stable by increasing your body’s ability to adapt and make corrections when you encounter uneven walking surfaces.
Seniors who regularly do these exercises will notice a marked improvement in the way they move and the way they feel when they’re standing, sitting, or laying down in a bed at rest.
Why are hip stretches important for seniors?
When your hip muscles and connective tissues are tight, your whole body suffers. Indeed, if the back is tight, the hip muscles may have to overcompensate in some way and either develop too much flexibility (resulting in injury) or too much tightness (resulting in poor balance and risk of falls) in order to protect themselves.
If the hips become too tight, the back and the knees may become prone to injury and the individual will certainly become more prone to falls.
Strong hip muscles are essential for good mobility, but before you can enhance the strength in your hips, you must have adequate range-of-motion to move them and use them. That’s why hip stretches are so important for seniors.
Anatomy of the Hip Joint
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint formed where the thigh bone meets the pelvis. The thigh bone has a big, ball-shaped head where it fits into a socket in the side of the pelvis. Some large, thick ligaments, muscles, and tendons hold the ball of the hip joint in its socket and keeps it from becoming dislocated.
Sometimes, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments get tight if the person doesn’t stretch or do exercises regularly to keep them loose.
The hip joint makes it so the leg has the ability to move in several directions. If your hips have limited range-of-motion due to poor flexibility, you may notice that they can’t move in certain directions. Before you can strengthen the hip muscles, you must stretch them and make them flexibile. Otherwise, the muscles won’t be able to move and can’t be properly exercised.
Performing Hip Joint Stretches and Exercises Properly
It is vital that you perform hip stretches and exercises properly to avoid injuries. Check with your doctor before you do any of the hip joint stretches below.
While doing the exercises below, it’s normal to feel a “stretching” sensation in your muscles, but this feeling should not be painful. If you feel pain, stop the exercise.
When you perform hip joint stretches, be sure to pay attention to the following:
- You should push your bellybutton forward to create a concavity in your lower back.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and your core as you push your bellybutton forward.
The lower back is made up of vertebrae along with tiny muscles that are very prone to injury. When you push your bellybutton forward and create that concavity in your lower back along with an activated core, all those tiny back muscles and vertebrae will be protected.
With each hip stretch you should practice the movement pattern above (tight core with bellybutton pushed forward). This movement pattern is one that you should use every time you need to pick up something heavy on the ground from groceries to one of the grandkids.
As you coordinate hip stretches with strong-back movements, you’ll become much more adept at avoiding injury.
How often should you do hip stretches?
If your hips are very tight, you should commit to doing your hip stretches every single day. Indeed, if you have severe tightness in your hips, you might want to start by doing stretches twice a day in the morning and at night.
What are some of the common causes of hip pain?
The hip joint is the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body and it was designed to withstand a lot of stress while still allowing for fluid movement. So if you start to feel pain in your hips, its important to tune into the possible causes of this pain before beginning an exercise regimen to stretch the hip muscles. Below are some of the most common causes of hip joint pain:
The bursa is a sac of fluid that’s located in certain joints to create cushioning and reduce friction between the bones, tendons, and muscles. If the bursa becomes inflamed as a result of doing repetitive activities, a person may develop bursitis. Some bacterial infections (such as Staphylococcus aureus can also cause bursitis), so a visit to the doctor may be warranted if this problem arises suddenly and without explanation.
If you’re suffering from bursitis, you will need to resolve this problem before you can do hip joint exercises. Your doctor will likely prescribe anti-inflammatory medication (or antibiotics, if it is caused by an infection) to treat the problem along with heat or cold therapies.
The tendons are thick connective tissue bands that connect muscles to bones. When these tissues become inflamed as a result of overuse or repetitive stress, you can develop tendinitis.
The symptoms of tendonitis include pain or tenderness at or near the joint along with stiffness that restricts movement.
Muscle or Tendon Strains –
If you strain a muscle or tendon in your hip, the tissues will become inflamed. This can make it almost impossible for you to go about your normal daily activities without experiencing pain. Typically, it’s important to keep strained muscles and tendons moving to keep them from tightening up. Certain hip joint stretches might be appropriate for dealing with a muscle strain, but talk to your doctor before undertaking a new set of exercises if you’ve recently strained your hip, knee, or back muscles.
Almost everyone has experienced joint inflammation at some point in their lives. Arthritis, also known as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis are some of the most common causes of hip pain in the elderly and the technical definition of arthritis is simply “joint inflammation”.
If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, it’s important to find the cause of the problem so that you can treat it and hopefully get the inflammation to go away. Ongoing inflammation can cause the cartilage that cushions the joints to wear down, causing pain that becomes chronic so its important to seek treatment early.
As a general rule, if you have chronic inflammation in the body, including arthritis, this is a sign that the body is struggling to stay healthy. Take a close look at your diet if you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic form of arthritis and consider doing a detoxifaction program to help your body cope with stressors and start the process of healing itself.
Hip fractures can happen if the bones have become brittle or weak. In elderly individuals who suffer from osteoporosis (a weakening of the bones), bone breakage can happen in response to nothing more than rolling over in bed. Osteoporosis can often be prevented or sometimes reversed through dietary changes recommended by The China Study (the largest nutritional study ever done). If you suffer from osteoporosis, consult with your doctor before doing hip joint stretching exercises.
Hip Labral Tear –
This is a tear in the ring of cartilage (known as the labrum) that goes around the outer rim of the hip joint socket. The labrum cushions the joint and keeps the ball in its socket to prevent dislocations. This problem is most common in athletes who put a lot of stress on the labrum.
Avascular Necrosis –
Avascular necrosis is also known as osteonecrosis. It occurs when blood flow to the hip bone is cut off and the bone starts to die as a result. This problem most commonly happens at the hip and can be caused initially by a fracture or dislocation. The long-term use of steroids such as prednisone in high doses can also cause the bone tissues in the hip to die.
Sciatica is caused by irritation, pinching, compression, or inflammation near the sciatic nerve in the lower back. There are different reasons why you may experience sciatica and recent studies have shown that, if you have this problem and you work to find sitting and standing positions where you don’t experience the pain, that sciatica (no matter what the causes including even slipped or herniated discs) will heal itself in time.
Simple exercises to “floss” the sciatic nerve can help reduce the irritation and learning proper movements that activate the core and the lower back (as described above) when sitting, standing, and leaning over can prevent the problem from recurring.
Cancer that starts in the bone tissues or that spreads to the bone tissues can cause pain in the hips.
10 Great Hip Flexor Stretches for Seniors
1. Standing Hip Flexor – Beginner
The standing hip flexor stretch is an essential hip stretch for every senior. The hip flexors are small, but they are responsible for lifting and lowering your legs, so they are extremely important when it comes to mobility! This standing hip flexor exercise will improve the flexibility in the hips, and will also gently build strength in the hip flexor muscles.
1. Start by standing upright with your feet together beside a chair, wall, or another surface you can use to balance.
2. Take a deep breath in, and lift your left leg up off the floor and bring your knee toward your chest as far as you can.
3. Hold your leg in the air for a count of 5, then slowly and carefully lower your leg back down again.
4. Repeat with your other leg. Do this exercise 10 times on each leg.
To increase the difficultly level of the standing hip flexor exercise, consider wearing ankle weights. Always start with only a little extra weight, and work your way up to heavier weights during this exercise!
2. Clam Exercise – Beginner
This stretch is perfect for beginners. The clam exercise is a good way for seniors to start improving hip flexibility because it allows the senior to focus almost exclusively on their hips, rather than requiring any concentration in regard to balance or strength.
1. Start by lying on your right side with your arm tucked under you head and your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. You may also use a pillow instead of your arm, as long as your head is supported and your spine will be straight.
2. Keeping your ankles together, begin to lift up your left knee. Make good use of your glute muscles and let your hips feel the stretch! You won’t be able to lift your knee very far, and that is fine.
3. Hold your left knee in the air for 5 seconds, taking deep breaths, and then lower your knee back down. Repeat on the left side 5 times, then switch to the right side.
3. Hip Marches – Beginner
This is a seated exercise that is excellent for seniors who are looking to improve their hip flexibility and increase leg and hip strength. Hip marches are simple and straightforward, and all you need is a chair!
1. Start by sitting in a chair, a dining room chair is ideal in that it should not move or bounce at all while you do the exercise. Place your feet flat on the ground and keep your back straight with your hands resting lightly on your knees or legs.
2. Taking a deep breath, lift your left knee up as far as you can without causing strain. Keep your knee bent.
3. Lower your leg back down and put your foot back down flat on the floor. Breathe out as you lower your leg. Repeat with the other side.
4. Perform this exercise 10 times on each leg.
To increase the difficulty level of the hip marches exercise, you may add ankle weights (always start with a few weights and work your way up to more!) or you can press down on your legs as you lift them to increase resistance.
4. Straight Leg Raise – Beginner
The straight leg raise is a simple and effective exercise for improving hip mobility and strength. It is possible to do this exercise easily at home, all you need is a yoga mat or a soft surface to lay on, and a pillow for under your head.
1. Start by lying flat on your back with one leg bent and one leg straight. For beginners, keep the bent knee at a wider angle. For more advanced seniors, consider bending your knee at a tighter angle.
2. Breathe in and begin to lift your straight leg up until your straight leg’s knee is in line with your bent leg’s knee. Do not raise your straight leg up beyond your bent leg’s knee.
3. Breathe out and lower your leg back down to the ground.
4. Repeat 10 times on that leg, and then switch to your other leg and repeat another 10 times.
To increase the difficulty level of this exercise, you may gradually add ankle weights to increase resistance. Another way to increase difficulty is to hold the straight leg in the air for 15 seconds before setting it back down again.
5. Hip Extensions – Beginner
The hip extension exercise is a wonderful strengthening and lengthening exercise for seniors who want to improve hip flexibility. You will need a chair or another object to hold onto during this exercise in order to help you balance.
1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lightly rest your hands on either side of the chair (or other balancing object).
2. Keep your left leg straight and your left foot on the ground as you slowly begin to lift up your right leg out behind you. Make sure to keep your right leg straight as well when you lift it. Do not bend either knee.
3. Only lift your right leg as far as is comfortable, and then hold the position for 5 seconds.
4. Slowly lower your left leg down to the ground, and repeat with the right leg.
5. Do the hip extension exercise 5-10 times on each leg.
If you want to make this exercise more challenging, you may try adding ankle weights. Always use only light weights at first, and work your way up to using heavier weights.
6. Standing Hip Abductors – Intermediate
This exercise is not only a great way to increase hip flexibility, but it’s also an effective way to improve your balance! You may do this exercise while holding onto a chair, table, or wall, or you can do it without using anything to help you balance at all, if you prefer. For beginners, it’s always advisable to stand nearby to a chair to help you regain your balance if you need it.
1. Start by standing with your hands on your hips and with good posture. Your feet should be together to start.
2. Without rotating your hips and while keeping your body straight, lift one leg out to the side of your body, keeping your toes facing forward.
3. Hold your leg in the air for 5 seconds, then slowly and gently lower your leg back down.
4. Repeat the exercise 5-10 times on each leg.
7. Chair Sit-to-Stand – Intermediate
For seniors, sitting down and standing up from a chair can become difficult without the proper maintenance and training of the hip flexors. This special exercise will specifically strength the muscles that are needed to sit down and stand up comfortably, and will improve flexibility in the hip flexors so that the movement may be smoother and less strenuous.
1. Start standing up, facing away from a chair, positioned as you would be if you were going to sit down. The chair should have a back to prevent you from falling backward in case you lose your balance.
2. Slowly, bend your knees and begin to sit down. Lean your chest forward but remember to keep your torso straight.
3. When your backside touches the chair, immediately begin to stand back up again. Go slowly if needed, the point of this exercise is to improve agility and balance, not to go quickly!
4. Repeat the exercise 10 more times.
If you want to make the exercise more difficult, consider using wrist weights to add resistance, or use chairs of different heights.
8. Half Bridges – Intermediate
This stretch is a great way for seniors to stretch their hips and lower back. It is fairly simple, but requires some strength and balance, so it falls into the intermediate category of difficulty. If necessary, you may use a small pillow underneath your heath and/or neck for support and comfort. Do this exercise on a yoga mat or another soft surface.
1. Start lying down with both of your knees bent. You may place your arms at your sides for extra support.
2. Slowly lift your hips and lower back up off the floor. Keep your upper back and shoulders on the floor.
3. Hold this position for about 5 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe!
4. Carefully, begin to lower your back and hips back toward the floor. Imagine that you are “rolling” your spine back out onto the floor, and start from the top of your spine, all the way down to your tailbone as you lower your body back down.
5. Repeat the half bridge 5-10 more times.
9. Pigeon Pose – Advanced
The Pigeon Pose is a more advanced hip stretch for seniors. It is a yoga pose and it may take some time to work up to this stretch, so go slowly! Once you are able to do Pigeon Pose it can have wonderful benefits!
1. Start on all fours on a yoga mat or a soft surface. Support your knees with something soft if you need to.
2. Lift your right knee up towards your chest, and bring it forward to rest on the floor between your hands. Stretch your left leg out behind you.
3. Lift up your chest and use your hands to balance. Remember to keep your hips square!
4. Use a pillow or blanket if necessary to support your right hip while you feel the stretch in your left hip flexors.
5. Hold the position for approximately 10 deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Then repeat on the opposite side.
10. Mini Squats – Advanced
Though most seniors may not be able to do full squats comfortably anymore, that doesn’t mean that squats are out of the picture! Mini squats are actually a great way to improve hip flexibility, and they can also increase strength. Since most people need to squat down regularly in their daily lives anyway, practicing the movement can make household chores much easier.
1. Start by standing upright with your feet placed shoulder-width apart. You may use a chair, table, or wall to balance during the exercise if you need to.
2. Keep your feet flat on the ground and carefully begin to bend your knees and lower your body down into a squat position. Lean your torso forward but keep your back straight.
3. When you have bent your knees enough so that they are above your toes, hold the position for 5 seconds, then return to a standing position.
4. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times per session.