Falling and breaking a hip may be the beginning of a loss of independence, since many people are unable to live on their own after such an injury.
The bad news is the risk of hip fractures increases with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, 250,000 people age 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures. Aside from serious hip injuries, hip pain from issues such as osteoarthritis can compromise the ability to get around easily.
The good news: You can take steps to reduce your risk of hip injury by taking a proactive stance. Simple modifications of lifestyle and exercise habits, for example, can keep hips aligned and stronger, making them less likely to cause problems over time. Check out these expert recommended tips for keeping your hips in tip-top shape:
1. Cushion your sleep
Many people can only sleep comfortably in a side position, but side sleeping can put the hip in an awkward, twisted position, says Dr. Benjamin Domb, sports medicine surgeon and founder of the American Hip Institute.
“Side sleeping may actually cause damage to the hip joint by creating an impingement. This can injure a part of the hip joint called the labrum, a ring of cartilage around the edge of the socket,” he notes.
Stretches, in general, should be felt as a gentle pull and never to the point of pain.
Pain in the groin or side of the hip, especially with pivoting movements, may indicate a torn labrum. If you’re most comfortable sleeping on your side, try using a pillow between your knees, suggests Domb. Or use a pillow under the knee of the “top” leg to avoid hurting your hips.
2. Practice proper posture
It’s common knowledge that slouching is bad for your back, neck and shoulders.
“But most people don’t realize that slouching can actually be caused by a hip problem. A hip problem can cause you to slouch, which then leads to problems with your back, neck and shoulders,” says Domb. To practice good posture, Domb recommends sitting up straight for an entire meal, without leaning on your backrest. “If you are uncomfortable sitting up straight, restricted hip motion may be the root of your problems,” he says.
3. Keep your feet on the ground
In addition to maintaining good posture, avoid crossing your legs. “Crossing your legs places hips in an awkward position and can cause numbness, tingling, irritation and pain,” says Domb. It’s best to sit with both feet flat on the floor, and keep your hips properly aligned.
4. Check your shoes
If you walk, jog, run or perform nearly any type of exercise regularly, upgrade your workout shoes periodically, since the cushioning wears down.
“Worn out, ill-fitting or non-supportive shoes can be a killer on your hips,” says Domb. “New shoes that appropriately fit your heel, arch and toe box are critical for hip alignment.” Seek advice from a trainer or running expert, who usually recommend shoes with less heel lift. And adjust your running form to incorporate a mid-foot strike rather than the traditional heel-toe.
5. Do smart yoga
Yoga done right helps improve strength, balance and flexibility. However, pushing for too much hip flexibility may injure your hip, says Domb.
“People have different shaped hip bones, and some people (think of your yoga instructor) naturally have incredible range of motion. If the rest of us try to imitate the movements of those people we will wind up with a torn labrum or cartilage in our hip,” he adds.
The key: Work within your own ability and flexibility range and use caution when striving for greater flexibility. Stretches, in general, should be felt as a gentle pull and never to the point of pain.
6. Exercise your options
Regular strengthening exercise can also go a long way toward protecting your hips. Including overall core strengthening works best, says Dr. David Geier, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, S.C.
“Planks, side bridges, hip abductor and adductor exercises and working your abdominal muscles help stabilize your core,” he says. “So when you transfer stress from your trunk to your arms and legs you’ll have better mechanics.”
I demonstrate these exercises in the videos below.
Doing the same workouts in your 50s and 60s that you did in your 20s and 30s can set you up for injuries, especially if you’ve been sedentary the past few years.
“Plus, you may have damage from playing contact or collision sports, such as football, or from repetitive sports, like soccer,” says Geier. “Sports such as soccer can lead to developing hip arthritis later in life. Even if you have wear and tear you can still be active as long as you modify your activities.”
This includes cross training, switching around activities to avoid repetitive injuries such as tendonitis. For example, if you enjoy biking try mixing it up with swimming or the elliptical trainer; include yoga along with weight training, etc.
“Nothing will set back your workout like an injury,” says Domb. “So listen to your body, don’t push it too far.”