The causes and treatments for hip pain when walking can be confusing and a lot to unpack.
If you are in pain it is important to know why you are in pain and that is not always so simple.
It is often a chicken or egg type of situation.
Does walking hurt because you walk badly? Or is it that walking hurts because of an injury that makes it hurt to walk?
Does the distinction make sense? I think it is important because the truth is a little bit of both.
Many things lead to the aches and pains we find ourselves experiencing as we age.
For example, did you break your ankle when you were five years old?
And then compensate for the injury in a weird way that your parents should have noticed but didn’t?
How about turning out your foot to limp after an injury to your knee or hip?
It is amazing how many people forget to return to their original walking pattern after an injury is healed.
The limp might not be as pronounced but some bit of it remains, and you walk differently forever after.
This happens all the time and we aren’t really meant to think about the how and why of it. We are basically designed to go along to get along.
Which is fine if you are lucky enough to live a pain-free life.
For whatever reason, some people can drink and smoke all their lives and get away with it.
In the same way, some people can walk terribly with poor posture and not suffer pain.
The odds are, though, if you are reading this, you are not one of those lucky people.
Let’s assume that you are suffering from hip pain when walking. Or any other chronic pain that doctors and health care practitioners can’t figure out.
Walking hurts my hips
What do you mean when you say “walking hurts my hip?”
Is it outside hip pain when walking? Or do you get hip flexor pain when walking which often involves a muscle at the front of the hip?
For that matter, what is a hip?
Our pelvis is made up of three bones. Two hips and the sacrum— a triangular bone between the hips.
Each hip has a shallow cup that the ball at the top of each leg fits into.
This is the hip joint.
And walking is essentially the interaction of the leg and hip within his joint.
And the freedom of movement, or lack thereof, affects all parts of the body above and below the pelvis.
When you experience something like hip joint pain when walking, it is because of an issue with these incredibly important joints.
But like I wrote at the beginning of this section you can have hip pain in different places. So let’s get a little anatomical.
If you have hip pain on the outer hip it could be something to do with a muscle called the tensor fascia latae.
The tensor fascia latae is part of the IT band (iliotibial band) which stabilizes the knee when we walk.
If you have pain in the outer hip when walking the tensor fascia latae is likely unhappy and not functioning well.
What about that front hip pain I mentioned? It could be one of a few muscles.
One of the quadriceps muscles (rectus femoris) attaches to the pelvis and this muscle is under a lot of stress.
We abuse this muscle in so many ways— walking, standing, sitting, you name it.
Another deep core muscle the psoas, which is the main muscle of walking, might also be the culprit.
So let’s look a little more closely at walking.
Causes of hip pain when walking
Who taught you how to walk is a question I often ask students and clients.
If you find yourself as an adult with hip pain when walking it is a question worth exploring.
The answer to the question is no one. We start walking before we can speak so there isn’t a lot of teaching happening.
Somewhere around one year old, you stand up and take your first steps. Steps your parents might not even see.
After that, you are on your own.
As a result, the main way you do learn to walk is through imitation.
You copy the way one or both of your parents walk as you develop your own gait.
But who taught your parents how to walk? And what if one of your parents was recovering from a serious injury at the beginning of your life?
If they limped, your might start limping too. If they had problems with back pain it might explain why you are suffering now.
Added to these realities is an ideal developmental process with milestones that we want to pass through as babies:
It doesn’t always happen this way— just like life. Things rarely go as planned.
But these milestones, those hit and missed, just like future accidents and injuries, add up to your adult walking pattern.
So what are you supposed to do when you find yourself as an adult with chronic hip pain when walking?
Walking and hip pain, and groin pain, and back pain...
Hip pain when walking is a general description. To get more specific you can have:
When it comes to the hips there are too many ways to suffer.
But I have a secret to share with you that is so simple, it should blow your mind.
Since no one taught you how to walk, way back when, I will do you honor of teaching you now.
And if you learn, or relearn, how to walk in the simple ways that I show you, your hip pain can start getting better immediately.
If not go away altogether.
Let me start by telling you there is a correct way to walk and you are not walking correctly.
Like I said earlier, the fact that you don’t walk well isn’t necessarily why you are in chronic pain.
But the fact that you walk poorly might be a reason why you can’t find a way out.
And it might be why no matter how many doctors and practitioners you have seen, none of their fixes stick.
The deal is, you need to partner with your practitioners by making simple changes to the way you walk.
Here’s the secret.
The body is a self-healing machine.
In the same way that your current walk is holding you back, changing the way you walk can be healing.
Just to say it again, the body heals itself, by design, when used well.
Too many people, possibly yourself included, get stuck in a cycle of pain and injury that never seems to end.
Change the way you walk and you can resolve aches and pains that by now you probably accepted as normal.
Look at the picture at the top of this section. That’s how you likely walk. Or some variation of that pattern.
If you don’t believe me look in the mirror or take a video.
You won’t believe what you see.
Treatment for hip pain when walking
However you walk I have one tip for you today that will change everything. Especially if you have hip pain when walking.
But before I share this easy fix I have one last question for you. “What makes you go faster, long strides or short strides?”
The most common answer is long strides and that answer would be wrong.
Shorter strides— but more of them— is the first simple change you need to make to the way you walk.
Imagine walking as an upside-down pendulum with the trunk and head on top of the legs. The legs keep switching back and forth to make us go forward.
When this happens the spine and head are in line with the pelvis. This incredibly important alignment allows the hips and shoulders to twist with every step.
This twist is the action that makes the body a self-healing machine.
Here are some things that happen when the stride is too long:
And all of those muscles I mentioned earlier— tensor fasciae latae, rectus femoris, psoas, and others— can’t really work as they should.
Simply put, if you lean back like I think most people do. Or take too long strides like I think most people do; it is not possible to walk well.
But all you need to do today is take slightly shorter steps. Your hip pain when walking should start to lessen immediately.
And over time, especially if you learn more techniques for changing your walk, self-healing becomes a reality.