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The hip joint:

Understanding its anatomy, how to feel it, use it and keep it lubricated
Published: 2020 01 17
Updated: 2020 01 31

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The hip joint

Hip joint. Neil keleher in shoelace pose. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Keeping your hip joints lubricated and healthy

Keeping your hip joints lubricated, and healthy, may not be that difficult if you understand how your hip muscles work, how you can learn to feel your hip muscles (so that you know that they are working) and, how your hip joints are kept lubricated in the first place.

Note that knowing how your hip joints are lubricated isn't just important as a matter of interest. It's important because if you understand how your hips are lubricated, and it's pretty simple, you can take the necessary steps to help keep them lubricated. And that means longer lasting hips, and the chance to avoid hip replacement surgery.

It's also an important point when dealing with hip pain. The assumption here is that hip pain is a result of your brain trying to keep your hip joint (and other joints) safe. I'm giving away the game here, but muscle control is a key component of hip joint lubrication (and joint lubrication in general), particularly when the hips are under load.

An interesting point is that for the people building replacement hips, lubrication is an important question also. The better they can keep an artificial hip lubricated, the longer it lasts. So you gotta figure, if lubrication is important with an artificial hip, it's going to be important for the hip joints you are born with.

The hip joint Index

How are your hip joints lubricated?

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. Because we spend a lot of time standing, or using our legs to locomote, our hips have to withstand a lot of force. Lifting weights or doing things like running places even more stress on our hip joints, subjecting them to greater peak forces.

A good question to ask is: how is the hip joint lubricated? How does it stay lubricated when subjected to forces of varying magnitude?

I've tried to answer that question in keeping your hip joints lubricated. Note that lubrication isn't just important for the hip joints. This article talks about lubrication in general (biotribology), the three main types of lubrication and how you can go about keeping your hip joints and any other synovial joint, lubricated, healthy and long lasting.

To further take care of your hip joints, learn to feel them and adjust them, particularly while doing standing yoga poses. Here's some suggestions for adjusting your hips and keeping them safe while doing standing poses: Basic hip adjustments for standing yoga poses

What I know about getting the hip replaced

Why worry about keeping your hip joints lubricated? If your hip joints aren't kept lubricated they will fail. And then you'll probably have to get your hip joint replaced. Here's what I know about getting a hip joint replaced.

Even if you live in a country where getting your hips replaced is easy (even if you have to wait a while), it's a painful process, you might have to get someone to wipe your bum for you for a few days after the operation, and then, even if your lower back feels better (because it was sore because of your bad hip) you still have to get over the fact that you've had major surgery. And that hip will wear out over time, and have to be replaced again.

So, why not look after the hips you were born with!

Hip joint stabilization

One way to stablize any joint is to use opposing muscles against each other. Apart from actually stabilizing the joint, one advantage of using muscles against each other is that it enables you to actually "feel" the joint. Another advantage is that this can add tension to the joint capsule and thus help keep a joint hydrostatically lubricated. In other words, you are adding tension to the joint capsule which in turn helps to prevent synovial fluid from being squeezed out from between articulating joint surfaces.

Before I even began thinking about joint lubrication, I wrote this article on stabilizing the hip using various methods. It includes a fairly broad overview of the anatomy of the hip joint, as well as how you can use hip muscles against each other to create hip joint stability, and how you can use hip joint muscles to "create space" in the hip joint. Read more about all of this in Hip joint stability

Sets of muscles that can be used against each other to stabilize the hip joint are the hip rotators. To get a taste of feeling and controlling these muscles, as well as the shoulder rotators, check out hip rotation

The hip joint as a bicycle wheel

One way to understand how your muscles keep your hip joint centered, (as well as lubricated) is to imagine the hip joint as being like or similar to a bicycle wheel. You can then imagine the muscles of the hip as being like spokes. How do you keep the hub of this wheel centered? By adjusting spoke tension, or in this case hip muscle tension.

I describe this bicycle wheel hip joint a bit more fully in hip joint bicycle wheel.

To complement this article, I've written another with possible hip joint muscle pairings.

These are how muscles might act together to help keep the hip joint centered. You can read about that in hip joint anatomy. Note the focus here is mainly on single joint hip muscles.

I've written another article that details 10 points of similarity (or something like that) between a hip joint and a bicycle wheel. That article is called understanding your hip joint.

The Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus is one big-ass muscle. And actually, I'd say that it can be helpful to think of the gluteus maximus as two muscles (possibly even three muscles) in one.

Why divide it up? Well, it can make it easier to understand, easier to use, and it can also help with remedying problems. So for example, if you think of the deep fibers of the gluteus maximus as those that attach from the pelvis to the back of the thigh, and the superficial fibers as those that attach from the pelvis and possibly the sacrum to the tibia, you may just figure out that while the deep fibers activate the superficial fibers may not be.

Note that the superficial fibers may be able to exert more leverage on the PSIS because they attach closer to it. And if you are dealing with back pain, that could be an important consideration.

For more on that, check out the gluteus maximus in the context of the long hip muscles.

For more on the gluteus maximus, also check out gluteus maximus anatomy for yoga teachers. Big tip, don't be afraid to use it. It's a big ass muscle. It's meant to be used!

An important point is that the gluteus maximus can be used to extend the hip and to externally rotate it. And it can be used against the hip flexors and internal hip rotators to stabilize the hip. Since it can also help in abduction, it can also work against hip adductors when to help stabilize the hip joint.

To get a feel for this muscle in rotation and in hip crease opening check out hip rotation and the hip crease.

For stretching the gluteus maximus, you may find some of these hip extensor stretching variations helpful.

Adductor magnus long head

Having mentioned the gluteus maximus, it seems fitting here to mention a complementary muscle. Actually, it's not the psoas, though it and the gluteus maximus do play well together (and most of my psoas related articles are filed under the lower back category), it is instead, the adductor magnus. This muscle is particularly important because it can internally rotate the thigh and it can help neutralize the external rotation tendencies of the gluteus maximus when you are trying to use the gluteus maximus to extend the hip.

It's an important muscle. So read all about it in adductor magnus.

The hip adductors and other muscles of the inner thighs

While there are five muscles that are generally thought of as the adductors, there are some other thigh muscles that also help to adduct the hip. Taken together these muscles not only help to control adduction and the opposite action, abduction, they also help to control hip flexion and extension as well as hip rotation.

Since some of these inner thigh muscles also work across the knee joint, they can also be useful in helping to control shin rotation relative to the femur and relative to the hip bone.

Read more about all of this in Adductors and inner thigh muscles.

As for stretching the adductors (or inner thigh muscles) check otu adductor stretches.

The hip crease

One of the most effective muscle control techniques that I've come across so far for working on the hips is to focus on feeling and controlling the hip crease. This is the line that separates the inner thigh from the belly.

You might think that because of it's close association with the adductors (along the inner thigh) as well as the psoas and iliacus (both of which pass under the inguinal ligament, said ligament forming the hip crease) that the hip crease is a good landmark for accessing the adductors. And it is. But it's also a very useful (and "sensible") landmark for controlling the hips in a variety of actions.

I actually developed a set of 5 yoga routines to train hip crease awareness and control and then let it sit for a number of years while I explored other aspects of hip control. I've now come back to it and having had a break from it, it does seem to be a worthwhile landmark to focus on for improving hip control. And that includes improving flexibility and strength.

For more of an overview, plus related articles on stretching it and otherwise using it, check out The hip crease.

The hamstrings

The adductor magnus could be thought of as a hamstring. It runs from the sitting bone like the hamstrings. Alas, it does not cross the knee. It ends just above the knee. And that's a nice way to segue into the hamstrings.

Read about them and how you can use them with the gluteus maximus (and perhaps even the adductor magnus) in hamstring anatomy for yoga.

For more on the hamstrings, with links to related anatomy and how to stretch and strengthen the hamstrings, read the hamstrings.

Also check out biceps femoris, outer hamstring pain.

Hip flexors

There are two types of hip flexors. Maybe there's more, but for the next two links to make sense there are two. One type of hip flexor only works across a single joint. The hip joint. For a look at single joint hip flexors, read hip flexors.

Then there's the multi-joint hip flexors. These could be called the long hip flexors. And as a matter of fact that is what I call them. Read more about them in long hip flexor muscles.

As for how to stretch these hip flexors in particular, check out bent knee hip flexor stretches. Note that a lot of these stretches are termed quad stretches. I'd suggest a more accurate name for them is rectus femoris stretches.

Because the multi-joint hip flexors also work on the knee, if you get a combination of hip flexor pain and knee pain, say while walking, it may have something to do with these muscles. To find out more, including what you can do about it, check out Hip flexor pain while walking.

For tips on both stretching and strengthening the multi-joint hip flexors, check out Hip flexor stretching and strengthening.

Some of the deep six hip muscles

The deep six hip muscles are the piriformis, the gemellus superior and inferior, the obturator internus, obturator externus and the quadratus femoris.

I've only got focused articles on three of them: obturator externus, obturator internus and quadratus femoris.

The long hip muscles

I've already mentioned the long hip flexor muscles. These include the sartorius and tensor fascia latae, both of which attach at the ASICs. The rectus femoris is also a long hip flexor muscle but with a slightly different attachment points.

Where the previous two muscles attach to the inside and outside of the tibia, the rectus femoris attaches to the front of the tibia via the knee cap. It also attaches to the hip bone below the ASIC. As such the long hip muscles includes the sartorius and the tensor fascia latae, but perhaps shouldn't include the rectus femoris.

Other muscles in this group include the superficial fibers of the gluteus maximus, the semitendinosus, the biceps femoris long head, and the gracilis.

Note that all of these muscles attach to corner points of the hip bone. In addition they attach to the inner or outer aspect of the tibia or the top of the fibula. And all of them can used to help control knee rotation.

Note that other muscles that are missing from this group include the semimembranosus, which attaches to the tibia very close to the knee joint, the biceps femoris short head, (which only works on the knee), the adductor magnus long head (which only works on the hip).

Hip joint pain

There are different ways to experience pain in the hip joints. The assumption here is that pain is a result of improper muscle function. To fix it yourself you have to understand how your muscles interact. You have to be able to learn to control your muscles. And you have to be able to feel your muscles. This is what has worked for me. There is no guarantee that it will work for you.

For hip pain in standing forward bends, read fixing hip pain in standing forward bends.

For hip joint pain in general, I've include three general tips for dealing with in hip joint pain.

For some answers to general questions about the hip joint check out hip joint questions.

For problems with hip joint popping, that's a tough one. I'm still dealing with it on and off, but you can read some suggestions here in hip popping and centering the hip joint. It's been a while since I've written that article, but it seems the best way to find a solution is to play with muscle control.

For sitting bone pain, read sitting bone pain.

Get a better feel for your hip joints

I've written a lot about hip joints. Even now I'm still learning. If you really want to understand your hip joints, my suggestion is learn to feel them and control them. Take a look at the hip control guide as a possible starting point..

For more on learning to feel and control the hip crease(basically, opening and closing it in a variety of positions), check out the hip crease course.

For a more general (and free) approach to hip strengthening, check out hip strengthening exercises.

These mostly focus on activating your hips while standing (and balancing) on one leg.

And for more on stretching the hips check out hip stretches.

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