Is Exercise Good for Hip Arthritis?

Hip Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most frequent form of joint disease that people develop with age. You hear a lot about arthritis of the knee, but arthritis also impacts the joints in the hip and the most common is osteoarthritis of the hip. Anyone can develop hip osteoarthritis, but people with structural problems of the hip joint and who have a history of a hip injury are at the highest risk. In fact, around 30% of people with hip arthritis have hip dysplasia, an often congenital condition where the thigh bone doesn’t fit securely into the pelvic socket. Obesity is another factor since carrying more weight places added stress on the hips. Also, hip arthritis is more common after the age of 50.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis of the hip, but there are ways to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Exercise is beneficial for so many health problems, can it also relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hip?

Exercise and Hip Arthritis

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of hip arthritis are pain and stiffness in the hip region. Most people complain of pain in the buttocks, although the pain can also affect the outer thigh and groin. Stiffness is another prominent feature of osteoarthritis of the hip and is worse in the morning when the joint is cold. However, some people with arthritis of the hip experience pain and stiffness after long periods of exercise.

So, is exercise harmful or helpful? As most orthopedists will tell you, it’s important to stay mobile when you have arthritis in a hip. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the bones in the hips wears away. As it erodes, the joint loses some of its cushioning and movements, even walking becomes more painful. The hip joint also becomes stiffer. Exercise helps lubricate the joint and reduce stiffness. It also strengthens the muscles that lie over the joints in the hips. When the muscles that overlie the joint are strong, they take some stress off the hip joint. Loss of cartilage because of arthritis and weak muscles is a bad combination. Strong muscles also help absorb shock so that movements impact the joint less.

Is there science behind this? One study in Finnish women with osteoarthritis of the hip found that women who took part in a 12-week exercise program reported reductions in hip pain of up to 30%. Their hip range-of-motion improved too, along with their quality of life. Other small studies also show that exercise reduces pain and stiffness and improves functionality in people with hip osteoarthritis. However, a 2010 analysis of multiple studies found that exercise may improve the symptoms of knee arthritis more than arthritis of the hip.

Exercising with Hip Arthritis

For a balanced workout, focus on aerobic, strength, and flexibility training. For aerobic exercise, stick to low impact forms of training that transfer a lot of force to your joints. Low impact doesn’t mean low intensity. You can still do low-impact movements with vigor. For example, you can sprint intervals on an exercise bike. Physical therapists also recommend the elliptical machine to mimic the movement of running without the impact. As with a stationary bicycle, you can do high-intensity intervals on an elliptical machine. Walking is another form of low-impact exercise that’s safe for most people with hip arthritis.

For strength training, include exercises that strengthen your core, hips, and glutes. Good examples are planks, bridges, hip flexions, hip extension, and pelvic tilts. Another effective exercise for strengthening the hip abductors and enhance hip stability is the lateral walk using resistance bands. To do this exercise, step into the middle of a round resistance band and slide the band up your legs to just above your knees. Step to your side with your right foot until you feel the band pull back. Then slide your left leg over until you’re back in your original position. Repeat several times until you’ve gone across the room in one direction. Then reverse legs and move back to the starting point. You can make the exercise harder by placing the band around your ankles.

What about exercises like squats or deadlifts? Let how you feel and your physician’s recommendations be your guide. These exercises are important for building strength in your core and lower body and that helps reduce hip pain and improve mobility. Most physicians and physical therapists recommend not squatting below 90 degrees if you have hip pain. Also, use moderately heavy weights and higher reps rather than heavy weights and low reps. If you experience pain or an exercise feels uncomfortable, modify it or lighten the weight. If that doesn’t work, don’t do it.

Don’t Forget about Flexibility

Stretches and yoga help increase flexibility and functionality if you have hip arthritis. However, you may have to modify some poses to make them comfortable. Caution is in order. For example, some yoga poses can worsen a condition called femoroacetabular impingement, a problem that comes from the hip bones being shaped improperly, thereby interfering with the way they move. People who have femoroacetabular impingement can develop joint damage or worsen the preexisting joint damage. It’s best to avoid poses with an extreme range-of-motion.

According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, forward folds, the cobra, side angle pose, and seated spine twists are some safer poses for people with hip arthritis. However, we’re all unique. It’s best to talk to your physician or physical therapist about what’s safest for you.

The Bottom Line

Everyone needs movement and exercises to keep our muscles strong. Without it, your muscles atrophy and weaken and that leads to an increased risk of frailty and falls. Several studies suggest that exercise improves the symptoms of hip osteoarthritis but listen to your body. If an exercise causes discomfort in your hip, find an alternative that’s safer for you.



  • Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. “Yoga Poses for Arthritis Patients from Johns Hopkins”
  • Arthritis Foundation. “Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis”
  • Inga Krauß, Benjamin Steinhilber, et al. “Exercise Therapy in Hip Osteoarthritis—A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Dtsch Arztebl Int 2014; 111(35-36)


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