The hips are a complicated area. There's simply no denying that. In researching this entry, I wanted to post a simple illustration of the musculature of the hip – I'm now pretty sure there is no simple, complete illustration. (Google image search “Hip Musculature” to see.) This is because our hip joint is huge; it's the largest in the body, carrying the most weight. But since our legs can also move in all directions, it's also incredibly flexible. Many large and small muscles are required to allow this mixture of strength and flexibility. Those small (and large) muscles are used constantly, and therefore are subject to pain and decreased mobility. My absolute favorite method for training hip muscles is ballet.
I've recommended another ballet stretch before (Rond de Jamb: remaleymassage.com/blog/2015/01/06/1420555080000.html) in order to increase range of motion and control of hip muscles. I recommended the below technique to a client complaining of IT band/TFL pain. This is the area along side side of our thigh, running from the hip joint to below the knee. The IT band is, in fact, not a muscle, but a band of fascial connective tissue. This can make it even tighter and more difficult to train. Not impossible, though, and the below exercise is my go-to when my thighs feel tight.
Begin standing with your legs straight, toes pointed out gently to a narrow “V.”
You may softly bend the knees a few times to warm up the joints. You can perform these movements while holding on to a chair, or with your arms stretched out at shoulder height, for balance.
Reach one leg, with pointed toes, out to the front of your body, as far as they can comfortably reach while still grazing the floor. Return to center. Point the toes to the side of the body; return to center. Point the toes back; return to center. And lastly point to the side again; return to center. This is one repetition of a ballet “Tendu.” Repeat 4-8 times on both legs, until you begin to feel the muscles release and the movement become easier.
The beautiful simplicity of this movement lies in the fact that it uses almost all of the muscles of the hip. Mastering it, therefore, is going to make you more aware of body patterns, while simultaneously releasing tension you may not have been aware of. It's easy to do any where, any time, when you feel your thighs and knees could use a little attention. Combined with the ROND DE JAMB, it's a wonderful complete hip workout!
As always, I'm happy to demonstrate any of these techniques in my office. And should you find that stretching and strengthening leave you still in need of care, schedule an appointment for a massage therapy session. I'll see you in my Westport office!
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I'll see you in my Westport office!
This simple tool is incredlbly powerful and beneficial
One of the easiest ways to care for your tight muscles at home is with a foam roller. This tool is relatively new in the home market, but has been used in physical therapy treatments for years.
The basic principle of foam rolling is that it physically creates space between muscle fibers and their connective tissue, called "fascia". Fascia wraps around all the muscles in our bodies like thick rubber bands, and although research is still progressing on it's makeup and function, it is believed that it affects our nerves (READ: pain) and can hold it's own tensile strength. It's therefore beneficial to attempt to relax the fascia to both relieve pain and increase mobility.
One basic principle to consider before you begin foam rolling: We can consciously tense muscles, but we cannot consciously tense fascia. Recall that the tenet of foam rolling is fascial separation; therefore, the fascia needs to spread easily. Since it lies on top of and around muscle, it is critical that the muscles are loose and soft. So when performing any foam rolling, never tense your muscles as you roll. I like to envision the foam roller as a rock in the middle of a stream, and my muscles as the water, flowing over and around the rocks freely. So remember to keep your muscles loose!
I believe the upper leg and hip are the easiest areas of the body on which to use a foam roller, so those are the areas we'll discuss below. Both groups of muscles stretch approximately from the top of your hip to just below your knee. After performing these maneuvers, you should notice increased flexibility and mobility and decreased pain.
Front of the Leg/Quadriceps Group
1. Begin with the foam roller directly under the top of your pelvic bone. It should feel uncomfortably high on your pelvis; this is where the longest quad muscle begins. Push your body up with your forearms into a loose pushup position, so that you are resting on your forearms and allowing your body weight to lay over the foam roller.
2. Engage your core and start to roll toward your knee. If you notice any tight areas as you're rolling, pause there and roll a few more times.
Side of the Leg/IT Band/Tensor Fascia Latae
1. Begin by laying on your side, legs stacked on top of each other, with the foam roller under the very top of your pelvic bone. Prop yourself up on one forearm, raising your body slightly. Place your other hand in front of your body, for stability.
2. Using that hand to push yourself, slowly roll toward your knee, pausing to spend more time on any tight areas. Move your arms around as necessary to support yourself; you should never feel like you need increased upper body strength to perform this exercise; it should be about using the foam roller as a fulcrum for your body.
These are my two favorite exercises using the foam roller. What are your favorites? Do you have any other ideas for exercises using this tool? Chat with me at my Westport office, comment on my blog, or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you! In the meantime, take good care of yourself between massage therapy sessions!