How to protect your hips

How to protect your hips
Some of the effects of ageing are inevitable and accidents happen, but there are simple measures you can take to help protect your hips
One of the best ways to help your hips stay healthy is to keep your weight within the healthy range for your height. Points of contact between the bones in each hip can be just a few square millimetres in area, so joint pressures can be high. Each extra kilogram adds 2kg to the force on your hips when walking, 5–6kg when climbing stairs, and as much as 10–12kg when running or jumping.
"Points of contact between hip bones can be just a few square millimetres in area, so joint pressures can be high"
These are heavy loads for your hips to bear, so any extra weight will significantly add to the daily wear and tear and increase your risk of osteoarthritis in later life, but here are some recommendations on how to keep your hips healthy.

1. Keeping moving

Your hip joints’ main defences against wear are the thick layers of cartilage that cover their load-bearing surfaces. Cartilage is tough but spongy, which allows it to absorb the synovial fluid produced in the lining of the joint capsules. When this fluid soaks into the cartilage, it carries oxygen and nutrients. Then, when your hip is under pressure, the fluid is squeezed out of the cartilage and into the joint space, where it acts as a lubricant and removes waste and toxins.
"When synovial fluid soaks into the cartilage, it carries oxygen and nutrients"
Since your cartilage has no blood vessels to deliver nutrients and remove waste, this absorption and release of synovial fluid is essential to prevent degradation and keep the cartilage supple and well-fed. Without movement, this fluid can’t circulate, so your hips need regular exercise to stay healthy.

2. Helping damaged hips

Credit: PeopleImages
Even if you have painful or arthritic hips, frequent mild exercise such as walking is beneficial to keep your hips mobile. If walking is painful, try swimming or cycling, where your hips don’t bear your full body weight. Alternatively, try the stretches recommended below.
If your hip needs to be immobilized for any length of time, perhaps after you’ve suffered a fracture, you may experience stiffness and muscle degeneration around the joint. As soon as you are able to move your hip again, start regular, gentle exercise to restore strength and flexibility.

3. Avoiding fractures

The older you get and the weaker your bones, the more likely you are to fracture your hip if you have a fall. Luckily there are plenty of ways to reduce your risk of fractures.
First, keep your bones strong by eating a balanced diet containing plenty of calcium. Most of the calcium in Western diets comes from dairy products, but alternative sources include beans and pulses, green vegetables, nuts, fruit and canned fish that is eaten with the bones, such as salmon and sardines. If you don’t get a lot of exposure to sunlight, also consider vitamin D supplements.
"Keep your bones strong by eating a balanced diet containing plenty of calcium"
Regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking or running will also help to strengthen your hip bones. If you already have weak bones or osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercise will still bring benefits. However, you will also need to take measures to avoid bumps and falls.

4. Reducing the risk of falls

Credit: PIKSEL
The home can be hazardous if you are not particularly sure-footed. In the UK, 46 per cent of the fatalities due to accidents in the home are the result of falls. Here are some simple measures to reduce your risk of falls:
  • When you get out of bed, sit on the edge of the bed to make sure you’re not dizzy before you stand up and start walking
  • Don’t skip meals; this can lead to dizziness
  • Keep floors dry and watch out for slippery wet patches
  • If you are prone to falls, consider fitting a shower chair or handrails that will bear your weight
  • Exercise to keep your muscles supple and improve your balance
  • If you are unsteady, use a pole or cane with a secure rubber tip for support
  • Wear glasses if you need them, remove reading glasses before you walk, and make sure you have good lighting in your home
  • Be aware of pets around the house getting under your feet or jumping up on you and knocking you off balance
  • When using the stairs, never carry an object that obstructs your view of the next step, keep at least one hand on the rail, clear any obstructions, and secure loose carpeting
  • If a coat, pair of trousers, skirt or bathrobe is too long, it may cause you to trip, so wear clothes that fit you properly
  • Close drawers and doors so you don’t stumble into them

5. Hip protectors

These are light, tough convex shields that fit over your hips to absorb or deflect the impact of a fall and reduce your risk of fractures. The soft-fitted shields are usually held in place in pockets on undergarments but some are carried on special belts worn underneath or over your clothing. Shields don’t provide total protection, so you should still take care not to fall.

6. Hip flexibility exercises

These simple stretches don’t involve any equipment and take only a few minutes, but they will keep your hips flexible and strengthen the muscles and ligaments around them. These exercises work best when you stretch slowly and hold the stretch – don’t be tempted to make large numbers of rapid stretches.
Hip flexor stretch
  • Kneel with your right knee on a small cushion and your left leg bent out in front of you, foot flat on the floor
  • Keeping your body upright, slowly move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the muscles at the front of your right thigh
  • Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat using your left leg
Hamstring stretch
  • Sit sideways on a bench or on two chairs placed side by side, with your left leg flat along the bench and your right leg extended over the side with your foot flat on the floor
  • Keep your back and shoulders straight and gently lean forwards from the hips until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat with your right leg
Quadriceps stretch
  • Using a wall or the back of a chair for support, stand on your left leg and raise your right ankle until you can grasp it with your right hand
  • Keeping your right knee close to your left, pull up gently on your ankle until you feel a slight stretch in the front of your thigh
  • Do not lean too far forward or back and pull just hard enough to maintain a constant, gentle stretch
  • Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat raising your right leg
Banner credit: m-gucci
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