It is all in the hips — until it’s not

August 1, 2012

Back pain, Dance, Exercise, Healing, Health, Pain, Yoga

The hip is the largest joint complex in the body, but most people only use it in one direction, propelling it forward.

by Dr. Stephen Brandon — 

Do you know how many Americans undergo surgical hip replacements each year? The number is astronomical. What is truly scary is how the mortality rate increases after these procedures. If you already have had a hip replacement, there are two important things you can do: keep moving and invest in a balance board. Improving your balance can minimize your risk of falling. If you have your original hips, please use them not just to walk, but to really move them.

The hip is the largest joint complex in the body, but most people only use it in one direction, propelling it forward. When we walk, we predominantly use our hip flexors, which bring the thighs forward. Walking is a tremendous health tonic and is excellent for exercise, relaxation and enjoyment. Unfortunately, walking involves very little gluteal activity. This means that we don’t bring our legs and hips into extension. Why is this important? The answer is abrupt: move it or lose it! When we run, dance or do yoga, we put the hip through a greater range of motions, including extension, which is the first of the movements that we lose.

I recently spent time with a talented Phoenix healthcare practitioner who made our visit seem like “hip day.” He did some very physical work just to get a few degrees of hip extension (pushing the thigh backwards). Some of the patients were older, but many were young, active people. This is not a unique situation, though. When we observe patients, family members and even ourselves moving, we notice that our movements are not full. With muscle testing and gait observation, we repeatedly find the following: the gluteus maximus muscle is commonly inhibited and there is rarely a spring in the step. How can this be?

The gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body and an extremely powerful hip extensor, is rarely used to its potential. However, when our glutes don’t function optimally, or when we don’t use them well enough, our gait loses fluidity, pelvic support is compromised, and lower back pain is right around the corner. Furthermore, if we don’t extend our hips, we lose this motion and gradually become stiffer and stiffer.

So, if you don’t run because it adds bulk to the butt and thighs, please recognize the beauty of a strong, functional body, rather than the vanity of a waif-like, unused body. We don’t need to take up marathon running, but we should run and play like children. We should climb. We should dance. Consider activities such as Nia, a therapeutic dance, or take up yoga. But if you are new to yoga, don’t be intimidated. You can do it! These types of play bring your hips into flexion and extension, and they move your joints in other planes, employing rotation and abduction/adduction.

Getting started

1. Sit when you put your socks on in the morning. Put one foot across the opposite knee. Put some pressure on the raised thigh/knee to stretch the hip one way, then use your arm to draw that knee up toward the opposite shoulder. Spend a few seconds stretching this way each day. This stretches and provides rotation.

2. Stretch your psoas muscle. Ask your yoga instructor, doctor or movement therapist for the best way to do this. A tight psoas reduces hip extension.

3. Get your butt in gear. Be explosive in your movements. Squat and jump. Use complex movements. Investigate kettlebell training to get started.


Stephen Brandon is a chiropractic physician who is a graduate of New York Chiropractic College. 480-563-4256 or the

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 2, April/May 2008.

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