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Hip Mobility and Back Pain: Why the Former Causes the Latter (And What to Do About It)

If your hip mobility is limited and you have back pain, the best first step is improving your hip mobility. Sure, you can strengthen your back (and you probably should – everyone can benefit from this), but if your hip mobility is limited, your back pain will keep coming back unless you resolve your limited hip mobility.

Why are Hip Mobility and Back Pain Related?

We’re glad you asked! When you break it down, it’s relatively simple. Your body needs a certain amount of mobility to perform any movement. When you lack the necessary mobility at the joints that are supposed to move, joints that aren’t supposed to move end up moving. If joints that aren’t supposed to move end up moving to compensate, you get pain.

This is most common when it comes to squats. To properly perform a back squat, front squat, overhead squat, or really any type of squat, you need a good amount of ankle mobility and hip mobility. The front squat and overhead squat also have other mobility requirements, but if you lack either ankle or hip mobility, things will move in ways they shouldn’t. And, again, when things move that aren’t supposed to move, you’ll have pain. We can break it down beyond that, but it truly is that simple.

Hip Mobility Requirements to Squat

There are three components of hip mobility to properly squat.

  1. Full (knee to chest) hip flexion (see photo 1)
  2. 45 degrees of hip external rotation (see photo 2)
  3. 45 degrees of hip internal rotation (see photo 3)
hip mobility and back pain
hip mobility for overhead squat
hip mobility and back pain

Fixing Back Pain from Limited Hip Mobility

If you’re limited in any of the tests above, working on hip mobility will help back pain with squatting and your performance. (And, who doesn’t want to squat more weight?) All three of the previous mobility tests are important, but if you’re limited in all three, we’d suggest starting with working on hip internal rotation. Clinically, we’ve seen this be the most effective component in resolving low back pain due to poor hip mobility.

Hip Internal Rotation Mobility

90/90 switches are our favorite hip mobility exercise. Why? You get two mobilizations for the time spent in one! They simultaneously work on hip external rotation mobility and hip internal rotation mobility.

If you aren’t getting a good stretch with the 90/90 switches, you can add some rocking in. This targets a slightly different angle that some individuals find more effective.

Our second favorite hip internal rotation mobilization is (it’s a long name) quadruped hip internal rotation with posterior band distraction. The English version of our physical therapy name is: we’re targeting the joint and the muscles at the same time.

Hip External Rotation Mobility

A lateral hip opener is the most effective exercise we’ve found to target hip external rotation mobility. It’s like the pigeon stretch, but on steroids. The video below goes over a couple different additions you can do to get an extra little bit of stretch as well.

Hip Flexion Mobility

When hip flexion is limited, the majority of the time, it’s the joint that’s limiting it. To target the joint, using bands is a necessity. Below is the mobilization we’ve found folks get the most success with when they are targeting hip flexion.

Hip Mobility and Back Pain – A Recap

To wrap things up, poor hip mobility and back pain are interrelated. Fixing back pain with squats often starts (and sometimes even ends) with improving hip mobility. There’s multiple aspects to hip mobility, but hip internal rotation is often the most important one. If these mobilizations aren’t helping you improve your back pain and your hip mobility is limited, reach out! We specialize in working with active individuals and athletes to help them do what they love – without pain!

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