Every time you walk, run, jump, carry, or bend at the waist, you apply stress to your hip bones and muscles. Stress is also applied to your hips when you are stationary. This is because your hips are the foundation and base of support for holding your body in an upright position. While sudden, direct trauma to the hip joint can cause injuries, many hip injuries gradually develop over time from chronic overuse. Body mechanics play a role in the development of hip sprains, which are the stretching and tearing of ligaments, as well as strains, which is the stretching and tearing of muscles.
Body mechanics, also called biomechanics, refers to the way our bodies move. It includes all of the skeletal, muscular, and joint actions that are required in order to complete a task. Proper body mechanics minimizes the amount of stress that is placed on the body. Conversely, poor body mechanics puts excessive stress on the body.
In order to achieve proper body mechanics, you must be intentional about the way you move your body and also develop muscles that are strong enough to support your movements. This article contains information about how to adjust your body mechanics in order to reduce hip sprains and strains.
The Hip’s Function
The hip is the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body. The smooth, rounded head of the femur (thigh bone) fits into the acetabulum (hip socket). In a healthy hip, the femoral head can smoothly rotate within the acetabulum. The joint also consists of ligaments, which function like elastic bands that hold the bones in place, and muscles that lengthen and shorten, causing it to move. Cartilage lines the joint, preventing friction between bones. Labrum, which is a special type of cartilage, also helps secure the femoral head in the hip socket.
A healthy hip is vital for normal activities. The hips allow you to move your legs forward, backward, to the side, across one another, or in circles. The hips also support your upper body both when you are stationary (e.g. sitting or sleeping) and when you are in motion (e.g. running or jumping). Hip injuries can interfere with normal activities throughout the day and prevent restful sleep at night.
Running with Proper Body Mechanics
When we imagine a runner demonstrating “good form”, it’s natural to describe the runner as moving forwards or backward. Avoiding hip injuries while running, however, has less to do with forward-backward movement and more to do with side-to-side motions.
Proper Running Technique
Running with proper body mechanics involves the hips in two primary ways:
- Pelvic Drop: Proper running form starts with your back straight and your pelvis level. During the stance phase of a stride, the body is supported by only one leg. When one leg is planted, the pelvis tilts down towards the other side of the body and stresses the hips. Aim to keep your hips at or below 12 degrees.
- Pelvic Rotation: Your pelvis rotates in the direction of your rear leg as it swings, potentially adding 1 to 4 inches to each stride. Over long distances, a longer rearward stride reduces the overall impact on your hips, knees, and lower back. Conversely, avoid rotating your hips too far and consequently over-striding. Aim to keep your hips at or below 15 degrees.
Proper running form also involves:
- Feet that are straight and knees that are relaxed.
- Keeping your arms to your sides with a 90° angle.
- Keeping your arms and shoulders relaxed.
- Landing midfoot first and pushing from the big toe.
- Landing quickly and lightly.
- Keeping your body’s weight slightly forward.
While practice can make proper body mechanics second nature, it is recommended that you periodically check your posture any time you run.
Jumping with Proper Mechanics
Over the years, athletic conditioning has placed greater emphasis on plyometrics, also known as jump training. Plyometrics can help an athlete train for basketball, volleyball, tennis, or any other sport that requires explosive jumps. While athletes are able to jump higher and farther than ever before, greater force and distance creates more opportunities for injury. Proper jumping form will not only help prevent hip sprains and strains, but it may even improve your performance.
Proper Jumping Technique
Jumping with proper body mechanics involves five phases:
- Loading: Proper jumping mechanics starts in a quarter squat position. Position your hips over your knees, and your knees over your feet. You will load force into your glutes, hamstrings, quads, back extensors, and calves as you prepare to jump. As you brace your core muscles, your weight shifts to the balls of your feet and your arms swing back.
- Initiation: As you start the jump, you’ll explosively contract the extensor muscles in your hips and legs while simultaneously opening up the hip flexors. The forceful movement of your hips, knees, and ankles at the same time is called “triple extension.”
- Extension: The hips and shoulders open up while the arms swing forward, creating the maximum possible momentum. At the highest point of the jump, your body will be fully extended.
- Descent: As your body prepares for landing, your hips hinge, knees flex, and ankles plantarflex.
- Absorption: When you land, your joints should be in line, closely resembling the starting position or the bottom of a squat.
These mechanics will vary based on the type of jump being performed. A physical therapist can work with you to develop proper form for broad jumps, side jumps, 180-degree jumps, and other variants.
The performance of quad dominant v. glute dominate athletes has become an important discussion in sports medicine. Quad dominant athletes tend to use their quads to shift their weight forward when jumping, transferring enormous pressure to their knees. Athletes who use the quadricep muscles as the primary source of movement also have difficulty achieving a full hip extension.
The glutes are the most powerful muscle group in the lower body. When jumping and landing, you want to utilize a glute dominant position that allows for triple extension. This will not only help you achieve a more explosive jump but also circumvent the additional knee and hip stress that is common among quad dominant athletes.
If you primarily rely on your quadriceps for jumping, consider working with a physical therapist. While some athletes are just naturally prone to using their quadriceps, others may use their quads to compensate for weak glute muscles. A physical therapist will teach you proper jumping technique and closely supervise your movements as you practice proper form.
Lifting with Proper Mechanics
Lifting an object that is in an inert state, otherwise called “dead weight”, can seem like a simple task, especially if it is a routine part of your job or exercise program. However, lifting any load from the ground engages multiple regions of the body, including the hips, legs, lower back, and core muscles. Safe lifting technique not only limits twisting at the hip that can potentially cause strains or sprains, but it also lowers your risk of a back injury.
Proper Lifting Technique
Lifting with proper body mechanics involves five phases:
- Evaluate: Evaluate whether or not you can safely lift and transport the load. If it is safe to move, stand close to the load with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed outward.
- Squat: Lower your body by bending your knees and flexing your hips. Keep your back straight.
- Pull: Take hold of the load, pulling it close to your body. Ensure that you have a firm grasp.
- Brace: Tighten your stomach muscles. Your back should remain straight.
- Lift: Rise straight up, lifting with your legs. Your leg muscles should provide the power that is necessary for the lift, not your back. Do not let your hips rotate.
Employ a similar technique when setting down the load. Bend your knees, flex your hips, and keep your back straight.
You should always evaluate the weight of a load and any potential hazards in your path before attempting to lift the load. If a load seems too heavy or unwieldy to move to the desired location, ask for assistance or use a tool that is designed for moving objects.
Talk to a Hip Specialist
The hip is subject to natural wear and tear. While proper body mechanics can lower your risk of a sudden injury and slow the progression of an existing tear, the physical demands of competitive sports and otherwise active lifestyles will still lead to occasional sprains and strains. When an injury occurs, talk to a hip specialist.
Dr. Steve Hamilton is a board-certified hip specialist at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. He has treated countless hip injuries, helping high school and college athletes successfully return to their sport. He also works closely with a team of physical therapists in order to help you prevent future injuries. Dr. Hamilton will help you achieve your best performance on the field.
Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hamilton for treatment. For your convenience, he is available at Beacon East, Beacon West, or Summit Woods in Ohio or at Beacon’s Northern Kentucky location.