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home > training > training tips > from the hip

From the Hip
It is imperative to maintain good flexibility and strength in the hip and low back region to counteract the postural stresses our bodies endure.

From the Hip

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By Janice Mehring
Posted Friday, 18 June, 2004

Injuries occur when the joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles are not working from their optimum position of strength and stability.

One factor in throwing things out of whack is poor postural habits. Can you picture the mom carrying her baby on the same hip every time she carries her? Her low back is chronically being strained by abnormal standing posture. When she goes to run, the hip and low back muscles are already strained, and contracted and injuries are likely to happen. Another example of this postural stress is if a woman stands (or walks or runs) with an increase in the sway or lordosis of the low back, the front muscles of the hip are shortened and cannot work to flex the hip properly. The low back gets compressed and the sacroiliac and low back joints become inflamed.

Muscle strength and stability are just as important in injury prevention. Weak abdominals and hip muscles can lead to joint and tendon injuries as the muscle are either not strong enough or too tight to support those structures properly.

There are a few key muscles in the hip and low back region to focus on stretching and strengthening to counteract postural stress and lack of trunk stability. Stretching is done slowly and painlessly. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat the stretch 3 times. You should be able to stretch further with each repetition but there should only be the sensation of muscle tension in the area you are trying to stretch, not pain. Concentrate on keeping your back relaxed while you are stretching these muscles.

Piriformis – This muscle sits deep in the buttock region under the gluteal muscles. The muscle attaches from the sacrum to the femur and is responsible for rotating the hip outward A tight piriformis may cause deep buttock pain and may even yield referred pain down the leg, mimicking sciatica. To stretch this muscle on the right, lay on your back and bring your right knee across your chest toward the left shoulder. Grab your right ankle with your left hand and gently pull your ankle toward your left shoulder. Reverse this sequence for the left piriformis muscle.

Hamstrings – The hamstring muscles are responsible for bending the knee and to a lesser degree, extending the hip. This group attaches at the ischial tuberosity (or sit bone) and travels down the posterior leg to attach to the tibia and fibula. Tight hamstring muscles are common in people with low back pain as tightness will restrict normal low back and pelvic motion. There are many ways to stretch this muscle group but for optimal protection of the low back and isolation of the stretch to this area, I recommend standing with the leg straight and heel resting on an elevated surface. The height of the elevation of the foot is dependent on the flexibility to begin with. In some cases, the curb is high enough. With the spine as straight as a broom handle throughout the entire stretch and the hips pointing forward toward the foot, slowly pivot at the hips forward leading with your belly. Concentrate on keeping your rear end going back and your hips staying level and forward. You can even take a broom handle and rest it along your spine while you are learning this technique to self check your posture. As your flexibility improves, you can either lift your foot higher or bring your upper body closer to your leg always maintaining that straight-as-a-broom-handle position.

IlioPsoas – This hip flexor is probably the most overlooked muscle in treating low back, hip and groin pain. It attaches to the front of the lumbar spine and travels across the front of the hip to attach to front the femur. It is a large muscle and can become shortened and restricted with too much sitting and/or with chronically standing in a sway back posture. Tightness or strain in this muscle can cause pain into the groin, low back pain and even referred pain down the front of the thigh. To stretch this muscle on the right , put your left foot up on an elevated surface with the left knee bent and the right leg kept straight. (like the position you might assume for a calf stretch). Tuck your rear end under, doing a pelvic tilt and maintain this pelvic tilt throughout the stretch. This part is the key to elongating that muscle along the front of the hip. Move your hips slightly forward and then tip your upper body slightly over to the left. You should feel the stretch deep along the front of the right hip. Experiment with how much to tilt the pelvis under and how much to tip your upper body over in order to get the most stretch. Repeat following the stretching guidelines outlined above and then reverse the process to do the left iliopsoas muscle.

I would also recommend keeping the quadriceps, and lower leg muscles flexible to allow for optimal joint range of motion and function. Just remember to isolate your stretch to a specific muscle and do it in a painfree manner. Making all of these stretches part of your training routine will significantly decrease your risk of injury in the low back and hip region.

Follow up by Jennifer Bostwick - SheRuns publisher

I have created SheRuns because I believe women runners need a voice and a space for expressing themselves. Although more women run than ever, there are limited magazines for running, in general, and insufficient magazines and articles aimed at women, in particular. Running is individual, for certain, but as a group, I believe women make up an amazingly connected presence with unique perspectives, goals and lives. With SheRuns, I hope to address issues that directly relate to running and how it fits into our lives as women. Excerpted articles for the current issue of SheRuns will be posted here monthly. This is the third article to be published. Be sure to come back and check out next month's article! Send me a note, let me know what you think.
Happy Running!
Jennifer Bostwick



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