Did you know that our bodies are designed for continual movement and motion? For example, the circulatory system requires muscles to pump fluid for vital metabolic processes. The lungs require active motion around the ribs and spine to maximize oxygen exchange.
Despite being designed for continual movement, we are often forced to sit for extended periods. In essence, chairs tend to hijack our ability to engage our abs and gluts.
Major Causes of Hip Pain When Sitting
When we are stuck in a seat, our awareness drifts away from our core; the point from which all physical force begins. The true center of the body mass can be found just below the navel.
Our core includes the lower half of the torso and hips. The bones of the hip joint complex include the lumbar spine, pelvis, sacrum, and femurs. The hip joint specific occurs at the intersection between the femurs and pelvic bones.
A fibrous woven capsule protects the hip joint. The sacrum protects the lower spinal canal, which can be a pretty sensitive spot.
The gluteal and rotator muscles surround the rear end of the pelvis, and house the proximal section of the Sciatic Nerve, which supplies the thigh and leg.
The hip joint is lubricated by bursa, which are fluid-filled sacks that grease the joint at the level of tendon insertions.
Bones and joints need to be stressed and stretched, in order to remain fluid and pliable. When we remain in a chair without rest breaks to stretch and move, our body system is essentially still. Our metabolism slows down, and our soft tissues become dormant.
The Anatomy Behind Prolonged Sitting
The effects of prolonged sitting extend throughout the body. Without appropriate stretch breaks or cushions, chairs present a significant challenge to the low back and hips.
When our attention diverts far enough into tasks of the day or driving on the road, the core muscles gradually relax. The pelvis rotates back into the pit of the seat. This places the hips into a more extended position.
Gravity is exerted directly over the top of the gluteal muscles, thereby exerting pressure over the Sciatic Nerve. After a period of hours, tissues around the hip joint become relatively dry, as the bursa do not release lubricant. Tendons around the hip become relatively taut and brittle.
When we finally rise up from the seat, we must engage the muscles surrounding the hips to stay upright. Sensory nerve fibers send the brain messages about aches and pains. These signals can become intense, especially after a long day of sitting with stress.
Our brain does not forget this feeling. Over the course of a career at a desk or behind the wheel, the body begins to recognize when we have sat for too long.
Aches and burning around the hips become the new norm. The body begins to tighten around the area of irritation, and it becomes increasingly difficult to loosen up after sitting.
Can Sitting Too Much Cause Hip Pain
Traditionally, seat quality and comfort have been associated with high class and luxury. A fine chair was deemed a prized possession, and passed down for generations. However, earlier generations did not pursue as many administrative jobs like they do now, but instead spent more time doing more physical jobs.
The average person can easily spend more than a quarter of every week in a sitting position. We sit long hours in desk chairs, car seats, benches, table chairs, couches, and even lounge chairs. We drive in seated positions to earn a living, and come home to relax on a couch after a hard day.
Sitting contrasts a great deal of human physiology. Physical movement is a natural state of eagerness for the human body. When we spend a full day sitting in a chair, our bodies become stationary and inert. Without frequent intervals of healthy motion, our joints become irritable.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the hip joint. Hip pain is one of the most frequently cited physical complaints of the adult population, many times colluding with back pain. More often than not, complaints of hip pain are very often exacerbated by a stationary sitting position.
Increased time spent sitting without a break leads to more severe, widespread hip pain. Although complaints of hip pain are usually one sided, it is not uncommon for both hips to hurt after a day of driving or in an office chair.
7 Quick Ways to Relieve Hip Pain When Sitting
No matter how much we may dread sitting, we can always make a little time for self-care. Physical movement can relieve hip pain from sitting.
The modern world is very time-centered. We are made to feel as though there is no time for joy, which is simply not the case. Physical movement to reduce hip pain from sitting can be simple, quick, and fantastic.
Below are a few methods to alleviate hip pain from prolonged sitting.
1.) Chair squats
One of the simplest ways to reduce stiffness is to invigorate muscles surrounding the pelvis. Chair squats are a joint-friendly version of a deep squat. This technique involves standing up from your chair, widening your feet approximately shoulder width apart, and lowering your hips back toward the seat gently.
The therapeutic aspect of this technique is to squeeze your bottom muscles throughout the movement. The gluteal muscles should act as both the force and fulcrum. By generating movement through your hips, the knee and ankle joints are stretched and engaged.
Perform between 10 to 50 chair squats at a time, or break them up throughout the day as it suits you.
2.) Tai Chi Hip Circles
The hip circle is a classic maneuver to generate healing movement between the leg bones and the pelvis. The rotational component of the hip circle loosens joints of the core, and brings awareness back to our physical center.
Stand from your chair, widen your feet shoulder width apart, and shift your hips over to one side (right or left). Circle your hips toward your backside, until you reach the counter point on the other side. That is one repetition. Simply shift your hips to the original side, and repeat.
Once you are comfortable with the movement, begin focusing on performing slow and even breaths during the activity. Physiologically, the pace of breathing usually coincides with heart rate. If we need to slow down our heart rate during a stressful period, we in turn slow our breathing rate.
Stretching is absolutely necessary to relieve hip pain from sitting. There is literally no other way to completely address the trunk space between the lumbar spine and legs. Modern culture binds our hips to our backs, and we become prey to developing ‘bad backs.’
One of the simplest ways to stretch is to simply bend down to touch your toes. This addresses tension in the low back, as well as the muscles that attach to the pelvis. By leaning forward, we are able to unweight our spines along the axis, and allow fluid and metabolism to clear out irritants that have built up over the course of the sitting period.
In addition, standing with one foot behind the other opens us to stretch our calves and hip flexors in one fell swoop. Be sure to stand near a table for support if you are challenged to balance in these positions.
4.) Chair exercises
Chair exercises are simple, superb and subtle. They can be performed multiple times throughout the day, and do not require large movements to achieve desired effects.
Primary chair exercises include toe raises, heel raises, knee extensions, abdominal squeezes, and marching steps. Begin by performing 10 repetitions of each exercise, and progress toward 20 when you are able.
These exercises should feel uplifting and therapeutic. You will have to pull off of the road to exercise in a car. If you are having a busy workday, you can perform one exercise at a time, and progress as your schedule allows. By making time to actively contract the muscles around your hip complex, fluids will exchange, and oxygen will be delivered throughout your body.
5.) Standing Desk
If sitting in a chair has become dreadful for your hips, consider doing away with the chair altogether. Many people now utilize standing desk spaces to complete their work.
A standing desk allows you to avoid prolonged pressure into the hip joints and low back, which undoubtedly makes for a better day. Standing desks do require prolonged standing periods, which may also result in some stiffness around the feet, ankles, and knees.
Appreciate water as a life source. Drinking more water presents a multitude of health benefits, and is one of the most under-utilized methods for improving wellness.
By drinking more water, you can delay the onset stiffness and pain. Your body will have more fluid circulate. Drinking more water will also force you to make more trips to the restroom, which leads to more walking intervals, and ultimately less pain.
7.) Swap Out the Chair for An Exercise Ball
If and when we begin to view a chair as a torture device, it is time to switch to a ball chair. Even if you only use it for breaks or brief intervals, your sore hips will surely thank you.
When sitting on an exercise ball, you will regain an essential awareness of your body and musculature. This process releases endorphins, which reduce pain stimuli and improve your mood as well.
We may remain seated to learn and earn a living. We also spend a great deal of time sitting in order to ‘relax.’ Sitting too long can irritate our hips, leading to pain and stiffness.
We should always look forward to the moments when we are able to get up and move. Preparing specific, short activities allows us to reap the most reward from our breaks periods. Do whatever you can to move your hips; you won’t get far without them.