The best exercises and stretches for hip pain

There are many different causes of hip pain, including injuries (eg straining or pulling a muscle), arthritis and inflammatory conditions. Gentle hip exercises can help relieve hip pain and improve joint mobility and strength. 

When performing hip exercises, ease into it. You may not be able to perform all of the below exercises and stretches at first.

Things to consider before starting to exercise your hips

The following hip exercises may initially cause some temporary discomfort but they shouldn’t cause or worsen your hip pain. If you do experience pain when performing these exercises, stop and see a doctor or physiotherapist for a physical examination and advice.

If you have recently had hip replacement surgery, speak to a doctor or physiotherapist before performing any hip exercises.

If you have intense hip pain, do not perform these exercises until your pain lessens. Instead, rest your hip and apply ice packs for 20 minutes three to four times a day. 

Before performing any exercises, make sure you warm up for 10–15 minutes with low-impact cardio eg brisk walking. After your warm up, stretch your muscles — this will make it easier to perform your exercises and reduce the risk of injury. 

Aim to perform stretches every day and hip strengthening exercises two to three times a week.  

Reduce stiffness and improve hip mobility with stretches

Stretching your hip muscles will reduce stiffness and improve your joint mobility. Perform stretches when your hip pain and stiffness are at their lowest eg after a warm shower or bath when your muscles are relaxed.

Gradually increase your stretches and exercises eg you can start with one to two exercises every day, three times a week. Once you feel comfortable with this, try adding in more exercises.

Spend at least 30 seconds for each stretch on each side of your body. Ideally spend one to two minutes on each stretch.

Butterfly stretches

These will stretch your inner thigh adductor muscles.

To start, sit on the ground with your legs bent outwards and place the soles of your feet together. Hold your feet and ankles and gradually lean forwards but keep your spine straight. Then, place your elbows on the tops of your thighs and gently push down until you feel a stretch. Release to bring yourself back to the start position and repeat.

Double hip rotations

These will stretch your gluteal muscles (muscles in your buttocks).

To start, lie down on your back and bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Then, rotate your knees to the left, bringing them towards the floor, while simultaneously rotating your head to face right, keeping your shoulders flat against the floor. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds and then return your knees and head to the start position. Repeat in the opposite direction.

External hip rotations

These will stretch multiple muscles that are part of your hip muscle complex, including your gluteal muscles, piriformis muscle (top of your hip), gemellus muscles, obturator muscles, quadratus, psoas muscles and sartorius.

To start, sit on the ground with your legs bent outwards and place the soles of your feet together. Place your hands on top of each knee and gently push down as far as is comfortable. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then return to the start position.

Figure four stretches

These will stretch the muscles on the outer sides of your hips and your gluteal muscles.

To start, lie down on your back with your legs bent, keeping your feet flat on the ground. Then place your right ankle on your left knee, pass your hands around the back of your left leg and gently move it towards your chest. Hold this position for several seconds and then return to the start position.

Knee lifts

These will stretch your lower back muscles, hamstrings (the muscles at the front of your thighs) and gluteal muscles.

To start, lie down on your back with your legs straight. With your left leg straight, bend your right leg, place your hands on top of your knee and pull it towards your chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then lower your knee back down.

Hip and lower back stretch

These will stretch your lower back muscles, hamstrings and gluteal muscles.

To start, lie down on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your knees and pull them both towards your chest. Then, breathe in deeply and as you exhale pull your knees closer towards your shoulders. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds while breathing normally and then lower your knees back down.

Hip flexor stretches

These will stretch your hip flexors (muscles at the front top part of your thighs).

To start, put your left knee on the floor with your right leg bent at a 90 degree angle and your right foot flat on the floor. Then, place your hands on your hips and slightly move your pelvis and torso forward until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Hold for several seconds and then return to the start position.

Leg swings

These will help stretch your gluteal muscles, upper hamstrings, upper quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thighs) and hip flexors.

To start, stand up with your feet shoulder width apart. For stability, hold on to a chair or back of a sofa. Then, swing your leg back and forth, while keeping your torso as still as possible. Next, swing your leg from side to side. Repeat for each leg.

Pigeon pose

This will stretch your lower back muscles and hip flexors.

To start, position yourself on the floor on all fours as if you are about to do a push up ie arms straight with hands flat on the floor below your shoulders and legs straight with toes touching the floor. Then, bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist — your ankle should be near your left hip. Let your upper body fold over your right leg and sink into the stretch as you breathe by bending your arms. Hold for several seconds and return to the start position.

Yoga squats

These will stretch your calf muscles, gluteal muscles, hamstrings and quadriceps.

To start, stand up with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands in front of you held in a prayer position, with your palms flat against each other. ​​Then, bend your knees and lower your buttocks as far as is comfortable or until your knees are bent at almost 90 degrees and then bring yourself back up.

Support the hip joint to relieve pain with stronger muscles

Strengthening your hip muscles will reduce your hip pain by better supporting your hip. Resistance training, following the instructions of a physiotherapist, can strengthen your hip muscles by using either your own body weight or small weights to provide resistance that your hip muscles can work against.

If you experience hip pain or discomfort for more than an hour after these exercises, you should reduce the amount and intensity of the exercises you perform.

Below is a range of hip strengthening exercises you can choose. Select three to four exercises to perform in a day, completing three sets with each set being 10–12 repetitions of the exercise. Try to select a different mix of exercises to perform on different days.

Abdominal exercise

This will strengthen your abdominal muscles.

To start, lie on your back and bend your legs, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Then, tuck your hands under your lower back and using the muscles in your lower abdomen, pull your belly button downward towards the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then relax.

Banded walk

This will strengthen your gluteal muscles.

You will need to use an exercise band. Place it around your ankles or just above your knees. Then, bend your knees slightly, keep your feet pointing straight ahead and side shuffle 10–12 steps in one direction and then 10–12 steps in the other direction.

Bridging

This will strengthen your gluteal muscles and hamstrings.

To start, lie on your back and bend your legs, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Place your arms by your sides with your palms flat on the floor. If this position isn't comfortable, you can place a small pillow under your neck and head. Then, gradually lift up your pelvis and lower back, keeping your shoulders and upper body flat on the floor. Hold this position for five seconds and lower your pelvis and lower back down, starting from the upper part of your spine.

Chair stands

These will strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles and abdominal muscles.

To start, sit on a chair with the back of the chair against a wall. Make sure you are sitting on the front part of the seat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Then, cross your arms, placing each hand on the opposite shoulder. Pivoting from your hips, lean your upper body back into the chair, then bring it forward again and get up. Then sit back down. Keep your head, back and shoulders and head straight throughout.

Donkey kicks

These will strengthen your gluteal muscles.

To start, get down on all fours with your knees bent and below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. Keep your right knee bent on the floor and lift your left leg, also bent at 90 degrees, upwards. Keep your foot flat throughout ie the sole of your foot at 90 degrees to your ankle. Do not tilt your pelvis. Then bring your left leg back down and repeat with the right leg.

A person performing a donkey kick stretch

Fire hydrant

This will strengthen your gluteal muscles.

To start, get down on all fours with your knees bent and below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. Keep your right knee bent on the floor and lift your leg leg, also bent at 90 degrees, outwards to the side so that your thigh becomes parallel with the floor. Keep your neck and back straight throughout. Then lower your leg back down and repeat with the other leg.

Heel-to-buttock exercise

This will strengthen your quadriceps.

If you need support, stand next to a wall or chair. Then, place your feet shoulder width apart and bend one knee back so your heel moves towards your buttocks. Next, hold your ankle and gently pull it towards your buttocks — only go as far as is comfortable and keep the top of your foot facing the floor, not pointing upwards to the ceiling. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Place your bent leg back down and repeat the same process for your other leg.

Hip abduction

This will strengthen your hip abductors (muscles at the outer sides of your hips).

To start, stand up next to a chair, table or wall, with your feet together. Reach your left arm out to the side to hold onto the supporting object or wall. Then, lift your right leg outwards to the side, keeping your left leg straight. Do not rotate your hips. Hold this position for five seconds. Lower your leg back down and repeat for the other leg.

Hip extension

This will strengthen your hamstrings and gluteal muscles.

To start, stand up in front of a chair, table or wall, with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your right leg straight and lift your left leg backwards as far as is comfortable, keeping it straight. Clench your buttocks and hold this position for five seconds. Bring your leg back down and repeat for the other leg.

Hip flexions

These will strengthen your hip flexors.

To start, stand up near a chair, table or wall, with your feet shoulder width apart. Reach any arm out to hold onto the supporting object or wall. Then, raise your right knee up to the level of your hip, keeping your left leg straight. Hold this position for one second and place your leg back down. Repeat with the other leg.

Lateral squat

These will stretch your inner thigh adductor muscles, quadriceps and gluteal muscles.

To start, stand up with your feet double shoulder width apart and toes slightly pointed out. Keep your left leg straight and shift your weight to your right leg. Then, push your hips back as if you're about to sit in a chair and lower your buttocks as far as you can. Keep your chest straight and your weight on your right heel. Return to the start position and repeat for the other leg.

Mini squats

These will strengthen your hamstrings, gluteal muscles and quadriceps.

To start, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place your hands on your hips. If you find it difficult to squat like this, hold your hands out in front of you for extra balance. Then, look straight ahead and slowly bend your knees until they are in line with your toes. If you find this difficult, go as far as you can. Hold your squat for several seconds and then push off through your heels until you’re standing straight again.

Short-arc quadriceps exercise

This will strengthen your quadriceps.

To start, lie down on your back with a rolled-up towel under your right knee. Bend your left leg so your left foot comes towards your buttocks. Then, lift your right foot off the floor, keeping your right knee pressed against the towel. Hold this position for five seconds. Lower your right foot back down and repeat. Then do the same for the other leg.

Side lying leg raises

These will strengthen your gluteal muscles and your hip abductor muscles.

To start, lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Then, using your arm that is touching the floor, cradle your head in your hand. Place your other hand on the floor in front of you. Now raise your top leg up as far as is comfortable. Hold this position for a second and lower your leg back down.

Single-leg glute bridge

This will strengthen your hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back muscles and gluteal muscles.

To start, lie down on your back and bend your legs, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Then, extend your right leg so that it is straight and push yourself off the ground using only your core and gluteal muscles. Then lower your leg back down and repeat for the other leg.

Quadriceps exercise

This will strengthen your quadriceps.

To start, lie on your back with your legs straight. Then, push the backs of your knees towards the floor and flex your toes towards your body. Hold this position for five seconds, relax and repeat.

Find the hip exercise routine that works best for you and know when to seek help

Gentle hip exercises and stretching can reduce your hip pain and improve your hip joint mobility and strength. You will need to try different exercises to find those that work best for you. Try to build them into your routine. You can also see a physiotherapist who can develop a tailored exercise programme for you.

Make sure your exercises do not worsen your hip pain. If your hip pain is getting worse, is continuous or severe, see a doctor.

Exercises for hip pain FAQs

What is the best exercise for hip pain?

There is a range of exercises you can perform to reduce your hip pain by increasing your hip strength and joint mobility. These include stretches, such as butterfly stretches, double hip rotations, external hip rotations and hip flexor stretches, as well as strengthening exercises, such as bridging, chair stands, donkey kicks, mini squats and side leg raises. Brisk walking is also a good way to exercise your hips and reduce your hip pain. 

How can I relieve hip pain naturally?

Performing regular hip exercises and stretches will help reduce your pain. However, make sure you speak to a doctor or physiotherapist before starting any exercise programme to make sure the exercises are appropriate and beneficial — improper exercise can put greater strain on your hips and worsen your hip pain. 

Is walking good for hip joint pain?

Yes, walking is good for hip joint pain as long as it doesn’t make your pain worse. It is important to stay active so your hip muscles do not weaken and walking is a low-impact way of doing this. 

What can I do to relieve hip pain?

You can take over-the-counter pain relief. However, it is also important to stretch and strengthen your hip muscles to reduce your pain and improve your hip joint mobility and strength. A physiotherapist can provide you with a tailored exercise regime to relieve your hip pain. 

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