When you lead an active lifestyle and exercise often, it’s inevitable that little aches and pains are going to happen. Problems arise, however, when these little aches and pains turn into chronic problems that prevent you from enjoying your activity.

Running is no different. As a former collegiate sprinter and having completed several marathons and half marathons, I can tell you first hand that if you don’t take a look at your training program when little pains pop up, chances are bigger problems are going to arise.

This is no more prevalent than in the hip. The hip is a driving force when running. If you think of the mechanics of running, a good portion of the muscles used have some sort of connection to the hips.

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From the glutes, to the quads, to the hamstrings, to the nastiness that is the IT Band, the hip has a lot going on. So any shift in mechanics or muscle function is going to result in some sort of pain.

What exactly is hip pain going to tell you about your running? Here are several issues you may have when you start feeling hip pain when running:

Running Mechanics
Postural Alignment-Specifically Hip Alignment
Muscular Issues-Weakness, Tightness
Potential Injury-Bursitis, Tendonitis, etc.
Not Enough Recovery
Too Much Intensity and/or Frequency
Shoe Quality
Running surface

That’s quite a number of factors to consider when we first start to experience hip pain, and usually our first thought is the worst case scenario of pain. It’s important to take a step back and analyze what we’ve been doing, when the pain started to occur, and make an educated guess as to what the cause is.

Running Mechanics

You may not think so, but running is a very technical movement, and even the slightest changes can have long lasting impacts, hip pain being one of them.

Something as simple as how your foot strikes the ground can have an effect on the mechanics of the knee and hip.

Land too much on the outside of your foot, then the supporting structures above it have to make an adjustment to handle it. Same goes for landing too much on the inside.

How your arms swing and in what direction also has the potential to throw off your mechanics. Too much side to side swinging can throw off your hips too.

Postural Alignment

Posture has a big impact on how we move and in this case how we run. Changes in hip alignment can lead to leg length discrepancies or altered hip tilt. Either way, this change in structural alignment can and will throw off your mechanics.

And altered mechanics as we saw in the previous section, leads to compensation patterns and creates a potential for pain.

Muscular Issues

Strength, tension, and trigger points are all things that can affect how your muscles function while you are running. When it comes to strength, it is quite often the hip abductors that are weakest.

Sometimes this is due to occupational hazards such as sitting for long periods of time, other times it’s a matter of not doing any strength training.

A big part of this is Glute Medius which plays a big role in stabilizing the hips, especially during single leg activities, which is exactly what running is.

And if your muscles aren’t quite firing like they should, then other ones will pick up the slack, even if that’s not their intended purpose, a big one being piriformis.

Tightness and trigger points can also be the cause of hip pain. Similar to how your back hurts if you stress it too much or your neck develops “knots,“such is the case for your hip.

They develop knots, which leads to poor function, and then pain. And just as you would work out kinks in your back or neck, your hips and glutes need the same treatment.

Injury

This is a tough one to handle because sometimes injuries just happen. Labral tears, tendonitis, bursitis all have the potential to happen. I won’t begin to touch on this, but if you suspect something this serious, you may want to consult an orthopedist or physiotherapist.

Too Much Intensity and/or Frequency

This is more often an issue with beginners, but even seasoned runners can increase their mileage too soon and eventually it will catch up with them. This can mean a few things like wear and tear on the soft tissues and breakdowns in the joints.

Not Enough Recovery

This goes hand in hand with the previous section. On top of doing too much too often, comes not taking care of your body. This can mean anything from not getting adequate sleep to not implementing recovery strategies like stretching or foam rolling.

Your body needs rest in order to regenerate soft tissue that is damaged when we run, or really exercise in any way for that matter. When we don’t accommodate our bodies, they let us know, pain being one of the biggest indicators.

It’s the Shoes

running hip pain_2

In one of Nike’s ad campaigns with Michael Jordan, they used the phrase “It’s gotta be the shoes,” indicating that all of Jordan’s skills stem from his shoes. In the case of running and hip pain, “it’s gotta be the shoes” can explain a lot of what is going on in your hip.

When you run consistently, your shoes wear out quite quickly, usually in a matter of months.

A typical recommendation is between 300-500 miles, and I’ve found in my running experience, that once pain starts to creep up, it’s that my shoes are done.

This is because shoes lose their cushioning, stability, and shock absorption over time. So if you’re feeling some pain, check when you last replaced your shoes.

Running Surface

Lastly, if you’re starting to experience pain in your hip, take a look at what kind of surface you are running on. If you are sticking primarily to running on the roads, switch to something a little more forgiving.

Additionally, if you are running on a track, be sure to switch directions in which you are going. Most people will run around a track with the inside to their left.

This has the potential to cause imbalances in mechanics and lead to hip pain. Every few laps or so, go the opposite way so you don’t stress one side over the other.

Takeaway

Hip pain is literally a pain in the butt sometimes and there could be many reasons why you’re experiencing that hip pain. Your best strategy is to figure out which one is causing yours, and implement a few strategies in correcting any of the potential causes.

Solving those issues can include any of the following:

New Shoes
Massage
Foam Rolling/Lacrosse Ball
Rest
Strength Training

New shoes will provide instant feedback as the first few times you run in them, you’ll be aware of how your hip feels. If there is an improvement, odds are that was the cause. That’s not to say any of these other strategies won’t help, because I can guarantee they will, it means shoes were likely a big part of your pain.

Periods of rest coinciding with seeing a massage therapist and utilizing foam rolling and SMR techniques can help keep your muscles happy and healthy. If your muscles are functioning at an optimal level, chances are they won’t be yelling back at you and causing you hip pain.

Lastly, start adding in strength training routines especially ones that incorporate hip abductor exercises like posture-ups.

Working on muscle strength can help fix some of the mechanics and posture issues you may have. Stronger muscles leads to a stronger body and that can only make you a better runner in the long run.

Lastly, don’t wait until it’s too late or the pain too debilitating to do anything. The last thing you want is to be sidelined for a few weeks because you didn’t take care of yourself earlier.

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