Get to know your hip joints

February 3, 2011

They’re not necessarily where you think they are. (Photo courtesy of cobblucas, Creative Commons Attribution licence)

Where are your hip joints? It’s something you may discount as obvious. But almost everyone, in my experience, seems to have a poor understanding of this area. And – as hopefully will be apparent once you’ve read further down – this vagueness goes some way towards explaining why many people suffer from lower back pain.

When someone asks you to “place your hands on your hips”, you probably rest them on the upper crest of the pelvis, the iliac crest (see image above and figure 1, below). This is the area commonly referred to as “the hips”. The hip joint, on the other hand, the area where your legs join your pelvis, is quite a bit lower down, as figure 1 also shows.

The problem for many people is that they’ve formed the impression that it’s natural to bend at the hips. It isn’t. When we bend in the middle region of the body we should only ever bend at the hip joints. If you think of your body as something that folds in half when you bend over, then it’s important to locate the middle bit here, at the hip joints, not further up at the hips.

Figure 1: Pelvis skeletal system (left) and (right, inset) pelvic region of a real person highlighting approximate locations of hip joint and iliac crest

Just being clear about this can make quite a big difference to the way you walk, for example, with potentially positive repercussions for any back or leg pain you may have been having. You can locate your hip joints by exploring this region with your fingertip, looking for the place where the leg appears to hinge on the body. It might be a little bit sore to press on this area, if you are someone with habitually quite tight and stiff hip joints.

So looking at it another way, the pelvis belongs to the back rather than the legs, if you like. During activity, such as walking, the pelvis should be maintaining its alignment with the back. It shouldn’t swing forwards and backwards with the leg. This tends to weaken this lower back area and leave it more vulnerable.

Having a better experience of walking, where the legs can move independently of the hips and pelvis, felt at first – for me – like I was floating on top of the legs, rather than sitting on top of them, sinking down into them. It made walking, for example, feel fantastic – much easier. But it also felt quite different and unfamiliar, so it was easy to revert back to the old habit. It takes a little getting used to.

Being able to maintain this easier use of the legs while walking – if it’s not in accord with your habit – depends greatly on other aspects of your posture (or postural mechanisms, I should say) working well. So if you are someone with problems in this area, an Alexander Technique teacher would spend some time showing you how to maintain a good use of your head, neck and back area, primarily, before going on to explore this aspect of the legs and how you use them.

Lying down in semi-supine (see this youtube clip) is another very useful practise with respect to maintaining a good relationship between the pelvis and the rest of the back. When you practise semi-supine, your pelvis and back remain in alignment. So regular practise of it helps reinforce the tendency to maintain a unity between these two areas, if it’s something you tend to lose when you are walking or moving around.

We have choices over how we use our bodies, and we can base these choices on what makes sense anatomically, or simply allow ourselves to pick up habits from our parents or the people around us, many of whom might not really know what they’re doing either.

2 Responses to “Get to know your hip joints”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandra Riddell, Paul Marsh. Paul Marsh said: Getting clear about the location of the hip joints can improve your use. See blog post at […]

  2. hi paul – what a great website and blog! i found it following a link from an e-newsletter by alexis nicki who’s based in paris. i’m so happy to hear you’re teaching successfully in glasgow. i’ve finally got ATI teaching status and today did my first intro workshop in french to 20 people – what a challenge! i’ve had a few private pupils both english and french but groups is a new thing. doing anything alternative in france is difficult and i often wonder what the fuck i’m doing here. at least i’ve got a boyfriend now – love from lucy x

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