Hip mobility for seniors
Hip Mobility for Seniors
The hips are one of the most common problem areas for seniors, particularly when it comes to mobility. As the base of support for the rest of the body, they are responsible for supporting our centre of gravity, enabling major functional movements like bending and walking, and providing stability for upper body movements.
In this article we’re going to look at how the hips work and why hip mobility is important for longevity, then go through some of the most beneficial exercises to help seniors improve mobility in their hips.
Understanding how the hips work
The hip joints are the largest ball and socket joints in the body and are formed where the femur meets the pelvis. They help move the legs during everyday activities and are controlled by various muscles, which allow them to flex and extend in the sagittal plane, abduct and adduct in the frontal plane, and internally and externally rotate in the transverse plane. The hips are also major weight-bearing joints; the stress placed on them during a simple activity like walking can be up to five times a person’s body weight.
There are numerous issues that can affect the movement of the hips, including arthritis, a sedentary lifestyle, and restricting exercise to predictable and repetitive movement patterns. And if you lose mobility in one plane of motion, it’s likely to affect or restrict motion in the other planes, too. This is why pain often transfers to other parts of the body, like the lumbar spine or knees, creating imbalances and postural problems that can lead to injury or require medical intervention.
Why hip mobility is important for seniors
Mobility refers to the ability of fascia and elastic connective tissue to lengthen and allow a joint to move through its complete range of motion. Research published in the Journal of Aging Research noted a significant decline in hip flexion in older adults between the ages of 55 and 86. On average, men lost 6 degrees per decade while women lost 7 degrees. Studies have also shown that a lack of movement in the full range of motion of a joint can lead to muscle atrophy and a reduction in the degree of stabilisation that the muscles can provide.
While mobility in the hips is important for everyone, it’s even more critical for seniors. Good hip mobility is key to preventing injuries and remaining pain-free, which translates into seniors being able to maintain their independence and more easily perform activities of daily living. Walking is one of the most fundamental movements we can do, and good hip mobility helps ensure a healthy, stable gait and reduces stress on both the hips and other joints in the body.
Many seniors also want to include leisure activities in their retirement, whether it’s low-impact sports or simply playing with grandchildren. This, in turn, can have positive social, psychological, and physical impacts throughout the older years.
Exercises for healthy hips
Regular exercise is one of the best things that seniors can do to maintain good range of motion. The following exercises promote proper joint and muscle mechanics to teach the hips how to move correctly. They can be done individually with rest in between each exercise for time or repetitions, or combined into a circuit with rest at the end.
1. Standing pelvic tilts. The purpose of the pelvic tilt is to teach the body how to move from hip flexion to hip extension while keeping the lumbar spine stable, which translates to many other exercises.
2. Standing hip circles. This rotational exercise works the hips through the transverse plane of movement, allowing your hips to loosen up in a wide range of motion.
3. Standing hip hinge. The hip hinge offers the same benefits of the pelvic tilt, with a greater range of motion that strengthens the entire posterior chain muscles.
4. Supported squats. This exercise can be done by holding onto both sides of a door handle or by squatting onto a chair. It strengthens the anterior and posterior leg muscles while giving seniors the ability to control ascent and descent into or out of a seated position.
5. Step-ups. This is a functional exercise that mimics walking up stairs or stepping over a curb and other day-to-day challenges. It promotes greater foot and knee stability, as well as hip mobility and strength, while enhancing balance.
6. Bird-dog. This exercise uses shoulder and hip motion to improve hip mobility while enhancing lumbar pelvic and core stability.
7. Glute bridges. This exercise helps enhance hip mobility while also improving lumbar spine stability through hip extension.