By Professional Physical Therapy
In today’s digital age, where many of us spend hours glued to our desks, it’s no surprise that hip pain has become a common complaint. The culprit? Prolonged periods of sitting. We will explore why sitting for long hours can lead to hip pain, how you can modify your sitting habits to prevent it and offer some desk-friendly stretches to alleviate discomfort. We’ll also address the effectiveness of standing desks and how physical therapy can help relieve hip pain and go a long way in ensuring your hips stay pain-free and healthy.
Why Does Sitting Cause Hip Pain and How Does It Feel?
Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to tight or strained hip flexors. That’s because excessive sitting causes the muscles to relax and deactivate (which means the muscle is “turned off”). This leads to the shortening of the hip flexors themselves, causing tightness and pain. You will most likely feel pain in the front area where your thigh meets your hip. Depending how bad the strain is, you may notice the following:
- Mild pain and pulling in the front of the hip.
- Cramping and sharp pain.
- Difficulty getting out of a chair or coming up from a squat.
- Difficulty climbing stairs or walking up or down sloped surfaces.
- Severe pain, spasms, bruising and swelling at the top of the thigh muscle. These are signs of a complete tear, which is less common.
Additionally, sitting puts pressure on the discs in your lower back, potentially causing pain that radiates to the hips. Lack of movement also reduces blood flow to the hip joint, leading to stiffness and discomfort.
Common Causes of Hip Pain
While a common cause of hip pain is tight hip flexor muscles at the front of the hip and weak gluteal muscles at the back, there are various other causes. Here are some additional reasons why sitting for too long might cause hip pain:
- Poor Posture: Incorrect sitting posture, such as slouching, can strain the muscles and ligaments around the hips, leading to discomfort and pain.
- Sciatica: Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back through the hips and down the legs, is compressed. Sitting can exacerbate sciatic pain, causing discomfort in the hips and legs.
- Hip Bursitis: Hip bursitis, inflammation of the bursa sacs that cushion the hip joint, can cause pain when sitting, especially on hard surfaces.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, can affect the hip joint, leading to pain and stiffness, particularly after prolonged periods of immobility.
- Tendinitis: Inflammation of tendons around the hip joint, such as hip flexor tendinitis, can cause pain, especially with movement or prolonged sitting.
If you are experiencing persistent hip pain when sitting, it’s important to consult a physical therapist or other healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. Once the underlying cause is identified, appropriate treatment can be given.
How Should I Sit to Prevent Hip Pain?
- Maintain Proper Posture: Sit with your feet flat on the ground and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and head in a neutral position.
- Sitting Positions: Avoid crossing your legs or leaning over to one side, as it can exacerbate hip tightness.
- Take Breaks: Stand up and move around every 30 minutes. Set reminders on your phone or computer to prompt you to stretch or walk for a few minutes.
- Use Proper Ergonomics: Invest in an ergonomic chair that supports the natural curve of your spine. Your desk should be at a height where your arms can rest comfortably, and your eyes are level with the top of your monitor.
- Desk-Friendly Stretches:
- Hip Flexor Stretch: While standing, take a step back with your right foot, bending your left knee. Lower your hips until you feel a stretch in your right hip flexor. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
- Seated Figure-Four Stretch: Sit tall, cross your right ankle over your left knee. Gently press down on your right knee until you feel a stretch in your right hip. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
Do Standing Desks Help?
Standing desks can be beneficial in reducing hip pain. They encourage movement and help engage your hip and leg muscles. However, it’s crucial to use a standing desk correctly. Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day to avoid fatigue. By intermittently standing throughout the day, you allow your body to be in its most natural position – upright – and allow your hip flexors to function properly. Also, invest in an anti-fatigue mat to reduce pressure on your feet and legs.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Hip Pain
Physical therapy can be highly effective in managing and treating hip pain, especially when associated with sitting. Physical therapists use various techniques and exercises to improve hip mobility, strengthen muscles, and alleviate pain. Here are some common types of physical therapy treatments for hip pain:
- Manual Therapy
- Joint Mobilization: Therapists use gentle movements to mobilize the hip joint, reducing stiffness and improving range of motion.
- Soft Tissue Manipulation: Techniques like massage and myofascial release can help relax tight muscles and reduce tension in the hip area.
- Strengthening Exercises
- Hip Strengthening: Targeted exercises focus on strengthening the hip muscles, including the hip flexors, abductors, adductors, and glutes. Stronger muscles provide better support to the hip joint and improve overall stability.
- Core Strengthening: Strengthening the core muscles can improve posture and support the hips, reducing strain and pain during sitting.
- Flexibility and Stretching
- Hip Flexor stretches: Stretching exercises for the hip flexors help alleviate hip tightness.
- Piriformis Stretch: This stretch targets the piriformis muscle, which can irritate the sciatic nerve. Stretching the piriformis can relieve hip and sciatic pain.
- IT Band Stretch: Stretching the iliotibial (IT) band can improve hip and knee mobility, reducing discomfort while sitting.
- Posture and Body Mechanics Education
- Therapists teach proper sitting and standing postures. They provide guidance on ergonomic adjustments for workstations and daily activities.
- Body mechanics education helps patients learn how to move properly to avoid aggravating hip pain during daily activities, including sitting.
- Heat and Cold Therapy: Heat can relax muscles and improve blood flow, reducing stiffness, while cold therapy can numb the area, reducing pain and inflammation.
- Electrical Stimulation: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or other electrical modalities can help manage pain and promote muscle relaxation.
- Gait and Movement Analysis
- Therapists analyze walking and movement patterns to identify abnormalities or imbalances. Addressing these issues can improve overall hip function and reduce pain during various activities, including sitting.
- Aquatic Therapy
- Exercising in a pool reduces the impact on joints. Aquatic therapy exercises can improve hip mobility and strength without causing excessive strain, making it beneficial for individuals with hip pain.
- Home Exercise Program
- Physical therapists design customized home exercise programs tailored to individual needs. Consistently performing these exercises at home can enhance the effects of in-clinic therapy and speed up recovery.
Home Remedies to Help Relieve Hip Pain
While it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, there are several home remedies and self-care techniques that can help alleviate discomfort associated with sitting. Here are a few suggestions:
- Warm Compress or Ice Pack: Applying a warm compress or an ice pack to the affected hip for 15-20 minutes can help reduce inflammation and provide relief. Alternate between heat and cold therapy to find what works best for you.
- Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage guidelines and consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying health conditions.
- Use Cushions or Pillows: If sitting for extended periods, use a cushion or a pillow to support your hips and lower back. Proper cushioning can relieve pressure on the hips and improve comfort.
- Epsom Salt Bath: Soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts can help relax muscles and reduce pain. The magnesium in Epsom salts may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Footwear and Orthotics: Wear supportive and comfortable shoes that provide proper arch support. In some cases, orthotic inserts can help improve alignment and reduce hip pain.
Remember, while these home remedies can provide relief, it’s crucial to address the underlying cause of your hip pain. If your symptoms persist or worsen, consult a physical therapist or healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.
Our physical therapists can assess your specific condition and create a personalized treatment plan. Regular sessions, combined with diligent adherence to prescribed exercises and lifestyle modifications, can significantly improve hip pain while sitting and enhance your overall quality of life.