Tips for Happy Hips This Winter
As the colder weather arrives and the snow starts to fall, many of us begin digging out our winter gear in anticipation of outdoor activities, whether that means snowshoeing, skating, skiing, snowboarding, or even walking with friends. Let’s be honest, it is really hard to enjoy a Vermont winter if you can’t get out and have fun in it. One of the barriers to enjoying the winter (besides single digit temps, wind chill, and ice) is our own health – it is very easy to get injured as we jump back into activities that we haven’t done for months. Add in the cold weather that causes our bodies to tighten up much more quickly, and the first few weeks of the winter are prime time for injury.
An important focus for injury prevention in the winter is the hips, particularly the flexibility of the muscles in your hip girdle. We often see tightness in this region, which leads to limited motion in the hip & low back, poor mechanics, and increased joint compression. These changes in joint space, flexibility, and movement often lead to joint pain and the potential development of intra-articular issues such as labral tears and arthritis. Many winter activities stress the muscles of the hip girdle either by requiring repeated hip flexion as with snowshoeing & skating, or by working isometrically in a prolonged flexed position when skiing & snowboarding, thus perpetuating the cycle of muscle tightness and increasing your risk of injury.
The best way to prepare your body for outdoor activities is a good warm-up consisting of dynamic stretches. For the hips, these could be:
1. Single leg deadlift
2. Lateral leg swings
3. Hip openers
4. Lateral lunges
5. Backwards lunge into march
Each can be performed for 30 seconds per side and they do not require a lot of space or any equipment, so they are easy to do before heading out into the cold!
In addition to a good warm-up, it is important to end with a cool-down that also incorporates stretching to maintain good flexibility post-exercise. These can be either dynamic or static, as the body is already warmed-up and the tissues are more malleable. Some great hip girdle stretches include:
1. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
2. Piriformis stretch
3. Pigeon pose
4. Active hamstring stretch
5. Standing iliotibial band stretch
Each can be done for 30-45 sec per side and like the dynamic stretches, they do not require any equipment and very little space, so they can be done almost anywhere!
As you get ready to venture around Vermont this winter, remember to take care of your body so that preventable injuries and pain do not keep you inside longing to be outside!