If you were diagnosed with osteoarthritis of your hip joint, this blog is for you. Even though you had been worried about a greater stiffness in your hip, the actual diagnosis, confirmed in black and white with an x-ray, probably came as a shock.
It frightens you to feel powerless in the face of this irreversible ageing process. There may be swelling and pain, the affected joint feels tight and the range of motion is limited. There are many activities you took for granted which are now causing pain, such as walking, climbing stairs, or standing for a long time.
Yoga can help! A targeted yoga practice can help keep your hip mobile, nourished, more released and more supported. Moreover, yoga can ease the stress and pain that accompany the condition.
Osteoarthritis is mainly an ageing problem of joints in which the cartilage (the protective, well-lubricated covering of the ends of bones) is damaged and worn down. This wear and tear of a joint can be caused by misalignment and/or repetitive movement patterns, but also an injury, old trauma, genetic factors or an infection may lead to osteoarthritis.
The usual doctors’ prescription is rest, ice applications, anti-inflammatory drugs for the inflammation, and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joint. It is important to avoid those movements that aggravate the pain, while simultaneously keeping the joint nourished by moving it.
This is where yoga therapy can help, it can:
- Keep the joint mobile, moving it in its entire range of movement, thereby lubricating and nourishing the whole joint.
- Gently increase the range of motion of the hip, initially best without putting weight on it.
- Stretch muscles so they will not tighten around the joint and increase pain.
- Strengthen muscles to increase joint stability.
- Make you aware of and improve your alignment and posture.
- Guide you through breath work for pain management and stress relief.
- Give you something proactive that you can do at home.
So apart from physical benefits, yoga provides a tool to calm the mind and help you deal with pain. With the possible result of less pain and a better mood, what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving and try the following exercises. They are chosen to stretch and relax muscles rather than strengthen the joint, as this is a necessary first step. Please be mindful of pain — and even though this is one of the rare cases in yoga where you may need to move a little through pain, please be very gentle and never allow these movements to really hurt.
Leg roll: Lie on the back with the legs extended, feet shoulder-width apart: rotate the feet towards each other with an exhalation and away from each other with an inhalation (the whole leg will roll in and out).
Windshield wiper: Still lying on the back, start with both legs bent and feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart, arms out to the side. Exhale and bring the knees to one side, inhale and bring them back to the centre. Exhale to the other side and repeat 4 to 8 time.
Glut stretch: With the right leg bent and foot on the floor, place the left ankle just above the knee. If it is comfortable, bring the right leg towards you by holding it with two arms on either side of the upper leg (or use a belt around the leg). Breathe calmly in this stretch. It can be easier to do this stretch with the right foot placed against the wall, which means you don’t have to hold the right leg. You would lie about shin-length away from the wall.
Repeat with the other leg.
Dynamic lunge (hip flexor stretch): Start on all fours, bring the left foot forward so that the left knee is above the left foot. Place both hands on the left knee. Inhale and bring the weight forward; feel the stretch in the right hip flexor. Exhale and come back to the starting position. Repeat 4-8x and then stay in the position while keeping the attention on your breathing and the sensations in the body. You can also add an arm movement for a greater stretch: lift your right arm while moving forward over the left leg. Repeat on the other side.
Supine tailor pose: Lie on your back with the soles of the feet together, knees out to the side. Rest for a few minutes like this if comfortable. You may want to support both knees on cushions: supporting the legs like that will allow them to relax more.
Finish by resting 5 minutes on the back with the legs bent and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Allow the knees to rest against each other and keep paying attention to your breathing while you rest.
These exercises are necessarily quite general and gentle. They are a good start, and if you would like to take it further, the best option is to have individual sessions with a yoga therapist. This would allow you to find the movements and adjustments that are right for you, and to have your alignment checked.
Have you suffered from arthritis or just been diagnosed? Have you tried yoga for this condition? Please leave a comment below. And if you would like regular yoga therapy tips, do subscribe to get this blog straight to your inbox twice a month!