Many people experience popping in their hips. Most patients come to the clinic complaining of back or knee pain, and a popping hip may be a secondary complaint. Although typically not a significant pain generator, popping in the hip is a sign of an underlying dysfunction in the hip needing to be addressed. If the popping in the hip is not attended to, more serious orthopedic issues may arise down the road.
There are three main causes of a popping hip – external, internal, and intra-articular. External is most frequent and refers to the iliotibial (IT) band snapping over the greater trochanter of the femur. Internal is also common and refers to the iliopsoas (hip flexor) tendon snapping over a bony prominence on the pelvis or at the lesser trochanter of the femur. Intra-articular is least common and refers to a floating loose body within the joint such as a torn labrum. External and internal variations are often due to gradual onset, whereas an intra-articular loose body is often due to trauma. There is a higher incidence of hip popping in females, especially those who perform sports requiring repetitive flexion and extension of the hip such as gymnastics, dance, soccer, and running.
How to fix it
Popping in the hip is often related to a stability issue in the hip or the core. To address this, work to improve your hip stability in all three planes of motion. Train slowly, controlling the motion to avoid the pop. Train only through ranges of motion where you can avoid the pop, and gradually increase the range of motion as your stability improves. The external hip pop (ITB over greater trochanter) is often related to poor hip stability in the frontal plane (abduction/adduction), and increasing strength of muscles such as the gluteus medius will be helpful in decreasing the external hip pop. The internal hip pop relates to the iliopsoas muscle. The iliopsoas muscle has shared attachments with the diaphragm. If the diaphragm is not providing a solid anchor point for the iliopsoas muscle, function of the hip flexor will be impaired increasing the likelihood of an internal hip pop. For this, focus working on diaphragmatic breathing to create better stability patterns in your core. Intra-articular hip popping requires an in-depth examination to determine which structures may be injured and to determine the best course of care.
To know exactly which exercises and treatments are best for you, it is important to seek out a therapist who understands hip biomechanics and can help you address the specific stability limitations causing the pop. Whatever the cause, popping in the hip should not be ignored. Even if caused by mild muscle imbalance, a popping hip can worsen over time if not addressed early.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm. Check out his bio here.
The most common hip exercise I see prescribed to patients for hip pain is the ‘clamshell’. The clamshell exercise, shown in the picture below, is commonly used to increase the strength of the gluteus medius muscle with the goal of improving hip stability. The clamshell is prescribed for conditions such as hip impingement, low back pain, or knee pain, and is commonly used to strengthen the glutes during post surgical knee rehabilitation programs. While the clamshell targets the gluteus medius muscle, one of our main stabilizers of the hip, there are functional limitations to the exercise which can cause adverse effects on a patient’s movement patterns and overall function of the lower extremity.
The issue with the clamshell exercise is it is a repetitive concentric exercise. A band is used around the knees to create resistance of the top leg moving into abduction (leg moves away from body). The gluteus medius is a primary hip abductor, and is thus contracted when the patient separates the top knee away from the bottom against the band’s resistance. A ‘concentric’ muscle contraction refers to a contraction where the muscle shortens as it contracts. This is in contrast to an ‘isometric’ contraction where muscle length does not change during contraction, and also an ‘eccentric’ contraction where the muscle contracts while lengthening. The problem with only training the concentric phase of muscle contraction is over time the muscle fibers will become short and tight. Remember, muscle fibers are shortening during a concentric contraction, and doing so repeatedly will cause a gradual tightening of the muscle. A short and tight muscle often equals a weak muscle and weakness in the gluteus medius muscle puts your low back, hips, and knees at risk for injury. Muscle function should be a coordinated blend of isometric, concentric, and eccentric contraction to maintain proper muscle function and physiology.
To determine if you have a short and tight gluteus medius not functioning properly, look for a ‘gluteal hollow’ – a concavity easily visualized on the outside portion of the glute complex. While some believe hollow hips to be aesthetic, they indicate poor function and stability of the hip. Ideally, the glute complex should be full and round with no hollowing. Notice the hollowing in the hips of the bodybuilder below. The athlete is overdeveloped in the gluteus maximus muscle and underdeveloped in the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscle. Despite having an impressive muscular build, the function and stability of this athlete’s hips are suspect. Contrast the bodybuilder’s hips with the athlete on the right. The football player on the right has a round and full shape throughout the entirety of the glute with little to no hollowing in the outer aspect of the hip. The football player has strong and stable hips in all planes of motion allowing him to jump, change direction, and accelerate effectively.
What to do instead – the DNS 7 month hip lift exercise
If your goal is to strengthen the gluteus medius muscle and improve hip stability in all planes of motion, the Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) 7 month hip exercise is your go to movement. The DNS 7 month hip exercise linked here, is a movement pattern based on the 7 month developmental pattern as outlined by the Prague School of Rehabilitation. The 7 month hip lift is a transitional movement from a side sitting position into a quadruped position, and it incorporates all 3 phases of muscle contraction for the gluteus medius muscle.
To perform, lay on one side with your hip flexed to just below 90 degrees. Initiate the movement by rotating your pelvis forward on top of the bottom leg. Doing so will lengthen the gluteus medius on the bottom side and you may even feel a stretch in the hip. Once the pelvis is fully closed down on top of the bottom leg, load weight into the bottom knee and use your strength to lift your hip off of the ground. You should feel the muscle contract on the outer portion of the bottom hip (gluteus medius). Hold at the top for 2-3 seconds and then slowly lower down to the ground. Focus on slow and controlled raising and lowering of the hip, which forces your body to coordinate isometric, concentric and eccentric contractions – closely replicating the demands placed on the gluteus medius muscle during sport and everyday life. Start with 3 sets of 6 reps for this exercise. Expect to be sore in the outer hip as this exercise is challenging and forces the gluteus medius to function in ways it may not have for a while.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.
Check out his bio here.
The recent snowstorms in Denver are a reminder ski season is right around the corner. Skiing is an incredibly demanding sport requiring high levels of fitness and athleticism. As with any athletic endeavor, it is important to prepare your body for the forces and demands of the sport. A skier must have strong legs and hips so they can turn sharply on their edges, brace for impacts, and hike at high altitudes to reach the best terrain. Off season preparation drastically decreases your risk of injury and subsequent time away from the mountain, and is an integral part of every successful athlete’s program. I will provide 5 simple exercises you can do from home which will prepare your body to hit the slopes come winter.
The SAID Principle
Well accepted in the strength and conditioning world, the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) states training should be specific to the type of sport the athlete is preparing for. The intensity, volume, and duration of training should be tailored to the specific sport. Skiing requires a diverse mix of strength, balance, and endurance that is unparalleled in other sports. The athlete must be strong enough to dig their edges into the snow at high speeds, have the endurance to hike at altitudes above 10,000 feet, and have the balance and stability to correct body position when uneven surfaces are encountered or landing from a jump. The skier must build strong quads, hamstrings, and glutes to effectively and safely navigate the mountain. The program I outline below addresses each of these muscle groups with functional exercises specific to skiing.
Off-Season Ski Workout – perform the following sequence of exercises for 3 rounds.
Body Weight Reverse Lunge – 3 sets x 20 reps (10 each leg)
Body Weight Squat – 3 sets x 10 reps
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat – 3 sets x 10 reps
Wall-Sit – 3 sets x 45 second hold
DNS 7 Month Side Lying Hip Get Up – 3 sets x 10 reps
I recommend performing this exercise routine 3-4 times per week. You can increase the number of rounds as you gain strength and endurance and as ski season gets closer.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.