Hips are vital in all body movements because the body’s centre of gravity is located in the hip area, about 4 finger-widths below the navel or belly-button. Healthy hips are also the key to a pain-free lower back and knees.
Flexibility in the hips is determined by strength and overstretching the hips in an effort to make them flexible will instead make the hips weak and dysfunctional. Muscle imbalances in the hips also lead to inflexibility in the legs – it’s common for people with hip problems on one side to have one flexible leg and one that is inflexible.
When hips become painful in yoga practice, it is usually time to consult a Biokineticist, because hip muscle imbalances need specific corrective exercises, based on an assessment of your hip-function. If hips are left untreated, pain often spreads into the lower back and the neck and shoulder area. It is very easy to develop hip-muscle imbalances with yoga, as a result of:
- Hamstring injury or previous hip-muscle injury
- Overstretching the hip muscles
- Poor movement habits such as moving with the pelvis tilted forward and arching the back or hinging from the hips in forward-bending
- Asana sequences that focus repetitively on particular areas of the body.
Strength differences between the left and right hip occurs naturally because most of us have a dominant hand that we use. Hand movements are stabilised by the shoulders, which are in turn stabilised by the diagonally opposite hip. Therefore, people who use their right hand usually have a stronger left hip.
Left-handed people often have more balanced bodies because many of the objects that they use in their day-to-day lives are designed for right-handed users, so they are forced to use both hands. Hip injury and dysfunction tends to occur in the weaker hip and so right-handed yogis tend to have problems with their right hip, because it is naturally their weaker hip.
When you have a strength or structural difference between the left and right hips, the pelvis tends to tilt to one side – it is higher on the weaker side, this will affect the body’s alignment and is one cause of lower-back and neck pain. This is referred to as lateral pelvic tilt.
Although asana practice is usually equal on both sides of the body, it can be helpful to pay more attention to the weaker side, because practising asanas equally will not correct any existing left-right imbalance, but will perpetuate it instead.
I will look at other the other factors which contribute to hip problems in separate posts.
Reading sources: Kendall, McCreary, Provance, 1993, Muscles, Testing and Function