There is hardly a dancer who has never had some hip pain at some point. For Latin and Rhythm dancers, it is extremely common, but Smooth and Standard dancers are very much at risk too.
When people describe hip pain, they can mean pain in the front/groin area, the side near the edge of the pelvic bone, or in the top of butt. The most common pain is the front/groin area, which is often referred to as the hip flexor given that muscles in this area have a major role in hip flexon. It is so common that every dancer should know each of the 4 Must Know Points on Hip Flexor Pain for Dancers.
1. Understand Hip Flexor pain.
Hip flexor pain is most commonly the result of over-stretching or tears in the muscle fiber.
- If the muscle fiber is modestly over-stretched or there are a small number of tears, you may feel discomfort but not have any impact in your ability to move and function. This will generally heal in time as long as there is no aggravation. In some cases, this kind of pain or discomfort is a recurring problem, which means that you need to understand the cause, to ensure that you can plan how to prevent it.
- The more tears there are in the muscle fibers, the more likely it is that your ability to move will be impacted, and the greater the severity of pain or weakness.
- Sharp pain, swelling, weakness or loss of function requires professional attention.
2. Causes of Hip Flexor pain.
One common cause of hip flexor pain is a sudden sharp contraction of the muscle during an explosive action.
- This type of pain is more likely with inadequate warm-up, or excessive extension during a movement.
Pain can also develop over time as a result of repetitive movement.
- This type of pain is most likely the result of misalignment of the feet, or knees or general weakness in the hip, thigh or even the core and buttocks.
Another reason for hip flexor pain is simple lack of attention to this important area in stretches and strength training.
- Muscle weakness, lack of flexibility, or tightness in the hip and upper front and back thigh, are all risks for hip pain.
3. Understand Hip Tightness.
Hip tightness may occur in anyone in response to injury, overuse or stress. Dancers are particularly prone given repetitive flex and rotation of the area.
To determine if you have tight hips try this:
- Lie down on a table. Put your butt on the edge of the table and let your legs hang off the edge.
- Then pull your knees to your chest and hold them there with your arms.
- Next, let one of your legs go back to hanging off the edge of the table. Have someone observe the location of your knee on the leg that is hanging down, compared to the position of your hips on the table.
- Your knee should easily hang below the edge of the table.
- If your knee stays above the edge of the table or in line with it, then your hips are tight and you need to pay very focused attention to building flexibility, to avoid injury. Massage will be beneficial to increase blood flow and decrease spasms. Additional care may also be needed.
4. Preventing hip flexor pain.
Prevention requires attention to flexibility, strength and good body mechanics. If you are medically able, consider the following exercises.
- Warm up your muscles and stretch to increase your range of motion. There are several exercises that will increase the flexibility of your hip flexors over time. One great stretch is called the butterfly stretch. In this stretch, you sit with your back straight and the soles of your feet touching each other. Lower your knees to the ground as far as you can without feeling pain.
- A deep squat works well as long as you do not have any issues with your knees or back. Stand with your feet slightly outside the line of your hips. Point your toes 45 degrees to each side. Squat down to almost a sitting position with your weight on your heels and your back straight. Make sure that your knees do not buckle-in by placing your elbows on the inner side of each knee to ensure stability. Turn your head fully left, then fully right to slightly increase the energy of the stretch on each side
- When you are at a competition, you can warm up your hip muscles and increase your flexibility for dancing by holding a chair or the wall, and swinging one leg forward and back in a controlled manner. Start with a lower swing or run in place until your muscles are warm, and then increase the range of motion of the leg by swinging it up and back as far as you can.
- The knee-to-elbow exercise increases strength in your hip flexor and your core. Kneel with your hands on the ground, directly below your shoulder, so that you are square on all fours. Then extend your legs back, as if you are preparing to do push-ups. Pull your belly button into your spine and contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core. Bring your knee forward until it touches your right elbow. Then straighten your right leg and bring your left knee forward to touch your left elbow. Continue to alternate back and forth for one minute. Rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the exercise for another minute.
- Straight leg raises can be done while sitting on the edge of a chair or while lying down. Lift one leg three to four inches off the ground while holding that leg straight. Hold for 5 seconds. Rest. Repeat 15 to 20 times.
- Leg extensions are great for hips and also strengthen the muscles in the buttocks. Lye on your stomach or kneel on all fours. Extend one leg backwards, hold straight, and raise it 3 to 4 inches off the ground. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 15 to 20 times for each leg.
- Another basic simple exercise is to stand while holding a chair or wall, then take your knee up toward your chest as far as it will go, and hold it there as long as you can.
Good body mechanics is almost impossible without good body alignment. When you are mis-aligned, there will always be undue strain on one part of the body.
- Chronic hip pain might actually start with the feet or knees. Feet that are pronated (so your weight is disproportionately on the inside edge) or supinated (disproportionately on the outside edge) may be the source of the problem.
- Weak hips can also contribute to pronated feet, which reinforces problem.
- Typically this is most immediately correctable with prescription orthodic shoe inserts. Flexibility and strength exercises may also be required to ensure long term correction.
- Good technique is another aspect of good body mechanics. For example a proper ballroom pivot with the turn on the ball of the foot requires hip strength, but will not put the hips in an excessively stretched position, while poor technique may. Also see our post on ballroom pivots.
- Other sources of misalignment are possible, and may need to be diagnosed and corrected by a chiropractor.
- Other causes of hip pain include arthritis or bursitis. Bursitis in particular is a risk for athletes, given repetitive action or injury.
- If your hip pain is chronic, and 3-4 weeks of flexibility and strength exercises do not help, then professional support may need to be your next step.
This is all to say, do everything you need to take care of you body. This will help you to you keep dancing the way you want, for as long as you want!