Staying Hip! Exercise Can Help Ease Discomfort of Stiff Joints in Middle-Age Womens

Patient Expert

Lately, I've found that my hips have stiffened up. According to my massage therapist, part of the reason is due to lower back issues that I've been facing. It turns out that my lower back has recruited my hip muscles into a revolt that at times can be uncomfortable and at times can be downright painful.

And I'm not alone because, unfortunately, stiff hips can be part of aging for women. In her book, "Fit and Fabulous After 40," Denise Austin notes that women's hips differ from men's. "Our hip socket is called a Q socket, and unlike men, the line from knee to hip isn't straight; our femurs, or upper leg bones, fit into the hip socket at an angle," she writes. "For this reason, women tend to experience more hip problems are they grow older." She notes that issues with your hips can impact your ability to walk and also can lead to back pain and other injuries. Plus, I want to do everything I can to avoid getting arthritis in my hips.

So what's the best way for women to avoid hip discomfort as we age? An Australian study found that physical exercise is very important. The researchers studied 3,970 middle-age women (ages 48-55) and older women (ages 72-79). The study participants were rated on their weekly physical activity. The researchers found that the odds of reporting stiff or painful joints (SPJ) as "often" were lower for middle-age respondents who were moderately active. In addition, older women in the low, moderate, and high physical activity categories had lower odds of reporting SPJ than their sedentary counterparts. "These results are the first to show a dose-response relationship between physical activity and arthritis symptoms in older women," the study authors wrote. "They suggest that advice for older women not currently experiencing SPJ should routinely include counseling on the importance of physical activity for preventing the onset of these symptoms."

So what should you do to? The Australian study suggests participating in at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, although engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (which would follow the suggested guidelines by the American College of Sports Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) may be more protective.

Stretching also can be beneficial. Austin recommends several stretches, such as the standing hip opener and outer hip reliever, as well as an advanced version of hip opener and hip stretch. Austin says she tries to do these stretches either first thing in the morning, right before bed, or while she's watching television. She suggests marching in place for 60 seconds prior to doing these stretches so you can get the blood flowing and loosen up your muscles.

I also have found doing stretching yoga exercises can be helpful. When I was having really bad lower back pain due to tense muscles, I tried Rodney Yee's Lower Back Care tape. After doing the 20-minute routine that included triangle poses and other types of stretches, I found that not only was my lower back feeling much better but my hips were more flexible.

As middle-age women, we often focus on the parts of our body that are sagging or expanding. But we need to really focus on keeping flexibility in our hips. Just add the appropriate steps to your fitness to-do list.