How Your Hip Joint Mobility Can Predict Your Running Injuries
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the different sources of information telling you to take different approaches to get the most out of your running?
It can be difficult to sort through what is real, and what could do more harm than good.
Everyone is always looking for the latest and greatest research to find “the secret” to running fast. Depending on your age, and your interest in the latest running news, you will notice that some of the same topics seem to come up over and over again.
The importance of hips in staying healthy is one of those topics that seem to come up over and over. If you stay on top of the latest news about running injuries, you’re probably familiar with the increasing body of scientific evidence connecting hip strength, or a lack thereof, with injury.
We would like to highlight the research on hip range of motion to make it a little easier for you to follow. You can even find our sources at the end of the post, so you know this is not just a case of Chinese Wispers!
The role of hip range of motion in predicting injuries
As it turns out, hip mechanics have a profound impact on the workings of your lower body when you run. However, the puzzle cannot simply be put together by strengthening some muscular weaknesses.
Hip muscle weakness definitely plays a major role in many different injuries, but the correspondence between hip weakness and abnormal hip mechanics is not entirely one-to-one. Other factors appear to play a role in determining your hip mechanics too.
One of these could be hip range of motion—do “tight hips” cause injuries?
Healthy vs injured range of motion
A little-known study published in 1992 by researchers at the University of Amsterdam contends that hip range of motion might be linked to injury risk.1 In this study, researchers measured the hip and ankle flexion/extension ranges of motion of sixteen male runners who had suffered an injury during the previous year, then compared them to the hip and ankle range of motion of sixteen male runners of similar age and weekly mileage who had remained healthy.
Ankle range of motion was not linked to injury: runners with a history of injury had no better or worse mobility in their ankles than the healthy runners, and they also had equal ankle mobility when comparing their previously-injured side to their healthy side.
In terms of hip range of motion, the runners with a history of injury, had a hip joint range of motion that was ten degrees less than the healthy runners.
The difference in range of motion was similar when comparing sides of the body, meaning that the injured runners had the same limited hip mobility on their injured side as on their healthy side. This suggests that it is less likely that the difference in hip mobility was a result of the injury as opposed to one of the causes.
Surprisingly, there was little follow-up to this study. Perhaps research focus simply shifted to hip strength and coordination, or maybe scientists just weren’t impressed by the small size and experimental limitations of the study. Regardless, there are no later studies that further explored this issue, so more research is undoubtedly needed.
Improving hip mobility for injury prevention
If we accept that there is at least some evidence linking hip range of motion to injury risk, how would we go about increasing our hip mobility?
Fortunately, there is better evidence in that area. Even though it is commonly criticized, old-fashioned static stretching is a reliable way to increase hip range of motion.
A 1993 study, found that three weeks of twice-weekly hip stretching sessions improved hip extension range of motion by ten to twelve degrees.2 A 1980 study found that hip mobility exercises are helpful at increasing hip range of motion too, to the tune of about fifteen degrees.3
One study published twenty-two years ago is not much to go on as far as making broad recommendations.
The most we can say is that there is some evidence that shows limitations in your hip flexion and extension range of motion could be related to injury risk. If you do feel like poor hip mobility is affecting your running, or if a doctor or physical therapist notes that you have “tight hips,” you might want to try stretching and mobility exercises to rectify the problem.
- Stretching out your gluteus maximus and your hip flexors at least a few times a week should significantly improve your hip range of motion
- Doing hip mobility exercises including Dynamic Warm Up Exercises, Hurdle Drills or the “lunge matrix.“
These are all short and easy additions to your training routine that could make a big difference in your hip mobility.