I’d like you all to take a few moments of your time to watch the video from the link below. I promise it’ll be worth it. I learned a lot.
Watched it? Good, now we’re on the same page. Like my good friend Shakira told us (and showed us) many times, our hips are vital parts of our body and are fundamental to the way we move and interact with our environment. This is the first article in a multiple-issue hip series, where I’ll come back every so often to tell you guys about some important tips and tricks that I’ve discovered.
For all of us EVERYletes, the health of our hips and the surrounding muscles directly impacts the way we do basically everything with our bodies. Wondering about the way you run and walk favoring one of your legs? There’s a chance it has something to do with your hip flexors. Does one of your glutes feel weaker than the other? You might be dealing with inflexibility with your hip flexors and/or your hips could be out of alignment. Are you experiencing chronic lower back pain that sometimes goes all the way up to your neck and shoulders? Yup, problems in your hips are a common cause for that irksome pain. Although your hips aren’t the first things you probably think about when the other parts of your body are feeling weird or in pain, the improper balance of hip alignment, flexibility, and overall strength routinely are an area of concern for all types of athletes.
The Southeastern Spine Institute in South Carolina sheds some light on the ways in which misaligned/imbalances hips can lead to all sorts of problems if they aren’t addressed and treated properly (and timely). Specifically, there’s a fine line of cartilage separating your hip bones with your femur; this helps dampen the forces of friction from activities like running, jumping, and even daily walking. Over time, they cite that this cartilage can wear away, and this is exacerbated with high-stress activities and sports. Left untreated, the cartilage will diminish and the muscles/joints that help support this important area of your body will become affected in such a way that will cause problems for your hips (and body) and lead to their misalignment and imbalance. You can read more about ways to potentially address and treat problems like this here.
From both what I’ve said and from the article, I can personally vouch for a lot of these problems regarding messed up hips. Throughout my sports career, I’ve dealt with numerous aches, pains, and annoyances in regards to my muscles and joints, and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to determine that one of the common denominators for my issues has been my out of whack hips and hip flexors. Strength imbalances between my left and right hip flexors, terrible sitting and standing posture, and total inflexibility from my shoulder to my hips to my toes all contributed majorly to my still messed up body. Luckily, I’ve taken the advice and guidance of various trainers and coaches throughout my college years, and by supplementing that with some of my own research and self-experiments, I’ve been fortunate enough to correct some of the imbalances that I’ve had forever and make some of that pain and discomfort to alleviate in severity.
Regardless of what sport you play or how much you play it, I can guarantee that you’re moving and using your body in some type of way that is influenced by the alignment and strength of your hips (yes, even if you play video games competitively, your hip health is fundamental to the way you sit in terms of your posture and your spine; hip health is for everyone!) The one thing that I believe everyone should do to help with their hips is:
Think about Posture
The mind is a powerful thing, and it’s a great place to start when addressing some of those potential hip issues. For me, this was paramount because of my never-ending lower/upper back pain, occasional neck and shoulder pain, and even hip flexor pain. Yeah, sports really messed me up (still totally worth it for any of you high schoolers out there wanting to play in college! Just make sure you talk to your trainers waaaayyyyy earlier than I did and you won’t end up as bad as me).
Although I can put some of the blame on the daily grind in the weight room and on the track, a lot of my lingering issues stemmed from a complete lack of awareness to how I was carrying myself and my body. I can’t tell you how many times that I had no regard to my posture. Here’s a short list of the ways in which I set up my hip and spine health for utter failure:
- I completely hunched my back over while typing on my computer trying to finish my homework every night. I would’ve given the Hunchback of Notre Dame a run for his money.
- I loaded my backpack up with a bunch of textbooks and clothing (many times that I wouldn’t even use/need) and proceed once again hunch for all I was worth. I’m surprised no one ever told me to just stand up and walk like a regular person.
- I threw my gym bag for track over my right shoulder (only my right, mind you) and leaned in the same way to walk to and from practice, which worked out to be roughly a mile every day.
- I would find myself literally laying down in my seat during class. Unconsciously I leaned down lower and lower that my butt was off the seat entirely and I was supporting all of my weight with my upper back and shoulders.
I could probably keep going, but I think you get the picture. Again, this is only the things I did that were outside of sports that compounded the inefficient and unhealthy way I moved on the track. All put together, my efforts (or ignorance of even having any) resulted in the hip alignment and spinal issues that I still face today. Even though physical therapy and professional massages could help my cause, they could only solve some of the puzzle. The majority of what eventually helped me to lose a lot of my unabated pain and discomfort was actively thinking about how my body should be situated.
From one of my weight room coaches, I learned that no matter what you’re doing, whether it be sitting, standing, walking, running, jumping, or anything involving your body being put into a particular position, you should imagine that a string is tugging the crown of your head straight up (just enough so that you’re not straining and that it still feels natural). Allow your neck to naturally sit back like it’s resting on your head. In this position, you should be able to easily lower your shoulders and rotate them towards your back, while at the same time seamlessly shifting your pelvis out slightly. This position will likely differ in small ways from person to person, but it’s a good start to finding what your ideal posture is. Again, I want to preface that talking with your doctor and/or your physical therapist will help you get a much clearer picture for your posture, but the cues I provided will point you in the right direction.
So what’s the takeaway from this first part in the hip series? Pay attention to your posture! It’s not seamless to think that your body is so interconnected, but knowing that all your muscles, bones, and joints all play their parts in keeping up your overall spine and hip health will set you up for success.
Stay tuned for the next issue, and keep those hips loose!
*Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, or form advertising that I’m a licensed or qualified medical practitioner, chiropractor, sports therapist, or any professional with advanced medical certifications. These tips and suggestions are purely from my own experiences and from the instruction of some individuals who do possess some of the knowledge and expertise above. I’m just a normal athlete that did some stuff to fix my effed up body, and it worked for me.