Q+A: What's this hip pain? Should I stretch?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Judith Pitt-Brooke

Q I have only just been bitten by the running bug, and although I feel no pain while running, the next day I get a niggling discomfort on the outside of my left hip. It doesn’t hurt when I touch it or when I’m sitting down, but I’m aware of it when walking. Is there a hip stretch or exercise that I should be doing?

A There are three muscles on the outside of the hip which stop the pelvis dropping as each leg swings forward. One of these (tensor facia lata) is a short muscle with a long tendon passing all the way down the outside of the thigh and attaching below the knee. This muscle is important in stabilising the pelvis in running and often becomes tight and inflamed, especially as a result of hill training. The other muscles lie behind the tensor facia lata and are called gluteus medius and minimus. These muscles are often weak in inexperienced runners and can lead to dominance and overstrain in the tensor facia lata. Efficient running requires good strength in all three muscles.

If your pain is above the bony prominence on the outside of the hip and behind the bony prominence at the front of the hip, this is the likely cause. You can strengthen the gluteal muscles very simply by doing the following exercise:

1. Lie on your side on the floor. Bend the underneath leg up until the thigh is at 90° to your body and the lower leg at 90° to the thigh. Use the upper arm to stabilise your upper body by placing your hand on the floor. Prop your upper body up on the under arm with a bent elbow. Ensure that the upper leg is taken backwards so that it’s in line with your body or just behind it. Pull your foot and ankle up until it feels locked and straighten the knee. Lift the leg slightly and turn the whole leg inwards so that the toes are pointing down to the floor. Lift the leg until it is parallel with the floor. From this position lift and lower the leg, ensuring that the knee remains straight, the foot locked up and the whole leg is turned in with the leg in line with your body.

2. Lift the leg until you feel an ache in the side of the pelvis towards the back. If you don’t feel this ache after repetitive lifting, the leg is too far forward. Try starting with 20 lifts and build up by two lifts every two days until you can do 50 lifts comfortably.

If this does not resolve your problem, seek the advice of a chartered physiotherapist regarding a possible bursitis (friction blister) or a deeper-seated biomechanical problem.

Judith Pitt-Brooke, chartered physiotherapist at the East Midlands Physiotherapy Clinic and On Trak Movement Analysis Centre

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Discuss this article

Hello runners world,

I was very glad when I found your article on Beating Injury?As the person who wrote in about
having the hip pain?I have the very same thing! And the article also gives advice on what to do
to try and help out with this problem.

You have just put me very much at ease:As I am doing my first half on sunday,
and was getting worried,about my hip.So when I go home tonight,I shall try out
the exercises,that are in this article:Fingers crossed that it helps me.This
was posted in your issue of May.

Many thanks for the advice.Its great to get support in times of great need,and
when you are only a beginner.
Posted: 02/10/2002 at 11:33

Thank God you posted this!!!
Now I know I dont suffer alone.
Ive always had problems with my left hip, I thought after sticking to my marathon training Id combated them at last, then for the last 3ish weeks of training I got an infection in my ear, which played up on thr day (nessie and daisy can testify) and all the work and conditioning,getting rid of the hip problem totally went to hell at about 14 ish miles. I finished in a totally unmentionable cringemaking time.
The physio on the site gave me a couple of excercises but I had started to think it was going to be the bane of mu running regardless, must get hold of that issue. Ta for sharing that
Posted: 03/10/2002 at 14:13

Hello Christine,

No problem:Its also good to hear from yourself:As like wise I was beginning to
think I was imaging things.The excerises that it tells you to do are:I shall try and explain as
best as I can!!

Lie on your side,with one arm bent for support for the upper part of the body!
Legs in line with body:Lying on the side that is not hurting:Tuck leg under,so it should
be sticking out behind you.

The leg on top keep that as straight as possible,in line with the body:Lift towards
the ceiling and bring down again make sure toes are turned in towrads the body,do this about ten/twenty lifts. Or depending on how you are
feeling.Hope this also helps out christine:Try not to worry about your unmentionable time,just
keep on running with the thought that you completed it.Try maybe next year for a better time.
Posted: 03/10/2002 at 16:10

Thanks flipper

must try that. If your interested in another to try (I found this brilliant!) the physio at Loch Ness marathon told me this one, here goes......

Lie on your back propped up by your elbows, legs straight out in front of you (make sure that at your feet there is something firm to push against (doorframe, table leg, friendly human).
Cross the leg that DOES hurt over the other one so that the foot of the crossed one is as neer to the knee as you can make it.
Now push the straight out leg against your 'object', hold for 10 and reopeat as often as comfortable. Try to keep your bum on the ground and you will feel a gentle stretch in your thigh.
let me know how you get on, if the exercises help your hip in your training/ next race.
Im doing a 5K this weekend and a half on Nov 3 so everything youve said has been great
Posted: 04/10/2002 at 10:47

About 3 years ago an intermittent feeling that my right hip was not quite right became a constant ache - the only reason I didn't go to the doctor is I thought he would tell me I needed a new hip - seeing as I am in my 30s I didn't fancy being told that. Since taking up running a couple of years ago and also regularly stretching afterward using the stretch described in the mag and above my hip is more or less fine - never painful - occasionally I can feel it - whether this is because of the running, the stretching or just a coincidence who knows but I feel a whole lot better about it!
Posted: 04/10/2002 at 18:49

Thanks christine,

Shall give your excercises a try later on.Lucky enough on sunday had no probs!! And nothing
up till now.So fingers crossed,its away for good.

Good luck with doing your 5K this week and your half on nov 3rd.Alot of hard training,goes
along way:It also pays off.Shall let you know how I get on with the exercise.

Bye for now
Posted: 08/10/2002 at 13:18

Thank God i discovered this. I was so worried that this might be a really bad injury. I've run with it for months now and thought there was no way of getting rid of it. Thank you Runner's World (yet again) for your expert advice.
Posted: 11/03/2003 at 10:38

As I have been running for nearly 20 years and have only recently noticed a slightly sore hip, I wonder whether this is related to increased training for the FLM or, more likely as I train mainly off-road, to the hard ground as a result of the recent dry spell.
Posted: 03/04/2003 at 09:49

Well done Sharon for bringing this up, I may have read this but never thought it was my problem because my hip only hurts during running. To start with it was after 10m but now it's been pushed out to 16-18. The comments here from fellow runners got me on the carpet and the exercise certainly targets the pain I experienced.
Posted: 03/04/2003 at 10:32

Pain in the butt. Can anybody help. I have a pain in the fleshy part of my buttocks and also my groin. I have visited 4 physios, received ultrasound, stretched, rested for 8 weeks and taken every anti-inflammatory there is. What can I do next?
Posted: 09/06/2003 at 23:19

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