Note: If you have hip pain accompanied by fever, inability to bear weight, weakness in the leg or foot, or swelling, bruising, or bleeding, see a doctor at once.
The hip is the largest joint in your body. The hips play a critical role in hiking, both in walking and in carrying much of the weight of your backpack. Hip pain can be debilitating on the trail, so you’ll want to learn to avoid it and control it as much as possible.
As a general rule, pain in the groin area or the inner hip indicates a problem in the hip joint itself, while pain in the outer hip, outside of the thigh, or buttocks is more likely to indicate problems in the muscles or soft tissues around the joint.
Hip problems can also cause knee pain: if the body loses mobility in the hip, it may place extra stress on the knee to compensate. You should also be aware that problems in nearby areas may appear in the hip as “referred pain”, which is felt away from the actual problem site. Hip pain should be checked out by a doctor to rule out potentially serious conditions.
In the short term, hip pain can be treated in much the same way as any joint or muscle pain: rest, cold packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and gently moving the joint through its available range of motion.
In the longer run, you’ll want to boost the joint’s mobility and flexibility with regular stretching exercises, and you’ll want to build strength in the surrounding muscles.
Pay particular attention to building strength in the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, all of which reinforce and support the hip. Building strong core muscles will also help reinforce and stabilize the hip. Weakness in the core can cause unstable side-to-side movement which puts additional pressure on the hip.
Hip replacement is a common surgery and it doesn’t need to keep you from hiking! Many doctors actually recommend low-impact exercises like hiking as part of a recovery program after a hip replacement.
If you’ve had a hip replacement, your doctor and physical therapist will give you a recovery program that should have you ready to hike in three to six months. They will tell you when you’re ready to begin hiking and give you a personalized exercise program designed to support your new joint. When you do start hiking, you’ll want to limit the weight you carry and avoid lifting your knee above a 90-degree angle to your body or walking with your toes pointed inward.
If you’re experiencing hip pain, a well-fitted backpack may help. Also invest in trekking poles, which add lateral stability and transfer some weight to your arms. And buying properly fitted boots with well-cushioned soles will transmit less shock to the leg as you walk, preventing hip pain from flaring up on your hike. You’ll also want to minimize the weight you carry and consider trying to lose weight if you’re carrying extra pounds on your body.