Achy hips due to hip arthritis can limit your ability to do certain exercises. However, staying physically active is vital for strengthening the muscles that support your hip joints and for boosting blood flow to nourish and lubricate the joints. Many people think they should avoid exercising if they have arthritis in their hip joints. However, doing so can lead to muscle atrophy and weakness. Plus, you need powerful hip muscles for better balance and to lower your risk of falling.
In fact, exercise can be your best friend for joint health. Studies show that exercise helps relieve the symptoms of hip osteoarthritis, the most common type. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of joint breakdown, but there are others. In fact, there are over 100 types of arthritis and there are other causes of hip pain and stiffness. That’s why it’s important to get a proper diagnosis before assuming you have arthritis of the hip. But if you do have hip osteoarthritis, exercise can help your pain and increase functionality.
In one study, researchers found that participants with hip osteoarthritis who took part in a 12-week exercise program reported less pain and had greater hip mobility. So, movement will help you stay functional and reduce pain and stiffness. Yet you want to do it safely. If you have hip osteoarthritis, you shouldn’t run a marathon, but you still need cardiovascular exercise. What’s the best way to get an effective workout if you have arthritic hips?
Low-Impact Exercise is Easier on Your Joints
Exercise where both feet leave the ground, as in running or jumping, places too much stress on the hip joints if you already have joint degeneration. Orthopedic specialists tell people with hip arthritis to avoid high-impact exercise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an effective cardiovascular workout. Most people equate low impact exercise with low intensity, but impact says nothing about how vigorous a workout is. You don’t have to jump or run to get an effective workout that builds cardiovascular endurance and fitness.
Ask most physical therapists and sports medicine physicians what is the most effective way to get a cardiovascular workout if you have hip arthritis and they’ll tell you to climb on a stationary bicycle. If you’ve ever done a spin workout, you know how intense such a workout can be, and a spin class definitely elevates your heart rate enough to improve your aerobic capacity and endurance.
You can also do interval training on a stationary bike by pedaling at a low resistance for 30 seconds or a minute and then increase the resistance and pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Keep alternating back and forth between hard and recovery intervals. Be sure to adjust the seat to an appropriate height. If it’s too high or too low, it can worsen your hip discomfort.
Water Exercise is Also Easy on the Joints
Some fitness trainers and physical therapists also recommend swimming or water aerobics, but that’s not practical for everyone. Another low-impact workout that will elevate your heart rate is working out on an elliptical trainer. If you have access to such a machine, it’s another low-impact option that will boost your heart rate. Plus, you can always do interval training on an elliptical by increasing and decreasing the resistance.
Another low-impact cardio option is walking. To boost your heart rate more, walk faster at intervals, and then recover. If it doesn’t aggravate your hip pain, you can also add hills for more of a challenge. Walking can be as easy or as challenging as you make it. If you walk, be sure to do it on even terrain. For example, hiking on an unpaved path with lots of twists and turns can be hard on your hips.
No matter what type of exercise you do, warm up beforehand with dynamic movements like legs swings and arms swings to raise your core body temperature. Your joints should be warm and fluid before launching into a sweat session. Don’t go into a workout with cold muscles and joints. At the end of the workout, do slow, gentle stretches without forcing the muscles and joints to the point of discomfort.
Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial, but you need other forms of exercise if you have hip osteoarthritis. Strength training is important for everyone, but it’s vital if you have hip arthritis. Strength training will strengthen the muscles that support your hip joint for better joint protection. Most experts recommend sticking to lighter weights where you can complete between 12 and 15 repetitions before your muscles fatigue. You can still build strength and muscle size using lighter weights as long as you fatigue the muscles. Focus on building strength in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. A strong posterior chain gives your pelvis and hips more stability and that will help you move more efficiently and with less risk of injury.
You also need stretching exercises to enhance flexibility and range-of-motion. Some yoga moves are also effective for hip pain related to arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, yoga helps to improve joint function and flexibility. It also reduces joint pain, but if you have severe hip arthritis, check with your physician before starting an exercise program.
Studies show that yoga helps people with arthritis improve many physical symptoms like pain and stiffness, and psychological issues like stress and anxiety. People with various types of arthritis who practice yoga regularly can reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility and function, and lower stress and tension to promote better sleep.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to stay active when you have hip osteoarthritis, but always let pain be your guide. If something hurts, stop right away. Don’t exercise through it. Also, check with your physician before starting an exercise program if you have hip pain. Reduce the amount of sitting that you do too. Get up and move around throughout the day and stretch. Sitting can make your hips stiffer and achier. Exercise also has another benefit—it helps with weight control. That’s important since studies show that losing weight is beneficial for arthritis in the knees and hips. There are things you can do from a lifestyle standpoint to keep your joints healthy, take advantage of it! References:
- UW Medicine Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “Osteoarthritis of the Hip (Hip Arthritis)”
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Exercise is good, not bad, for arthritis”
- Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Jul; 45(7): 1292–1297.
- doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182885f26.