Of the hard-working joints in the body, the hip has it harder than most. Complex, responsible for most movement, and weight-bearing, our hips support us through all of our daily activities, from sitting to running to catch the bus. When pain in the hips makes activity challenging, it’s important to get our questions answered and fast. So, is walking good for bursitis? Can I exercise with bursitis? Keep reading for answers to these questions (and more).
What is bursitis?
Bursitis is an inflammatory condition that can affect any of the joints in your body, but most often affect the hips. Bursa are fluid-filled sacs located within each joint. When bursae are healthy, they act like shock absorbers, cushioning the joints, easing movement, and protecting bones from rubbing against each other.
When bursae are not healthy, they are less effective in their job. Bones connect with each step. The bursa become inflamed, resulting in pain that ranges from mild to immobilizing.
There are two types of hip bursitis: trochanteric bursitis and iliopsoas bursitis (also referred to as snapping tendon syndrome). Trochanteric bursitis is most common in older adults, with young adults and adolescents more commonly affected by iliopsoas bursitis.
When not caused by injury or trauma, hip bursitis symptoms may come on gradually. You may feel stiff and achy. In later stages of the condition your hip may appear swollen and red. Pain generally increases with movement, but sitting for too long can also increase discomfort.
If your hip pain becomes so extreme that you are unable to move, or the pain is accompanied by a fever or sharp and shooting pain, see your doctor immediately as this can be a sign of serious infection in the hip joint.
What causes bursitis?
There are a variety of reasons why hip bursa break down, not the least of which is the sheer amount of weight and work they suffer over the years.
One of the main causes of hip bursitis is simple wear and tear on the joint. Walking is an example of repetitive motion that can cause bursa to become inflamed. Other types of repetitive motion that can cause hip bursitis include running, especially on hard surfaces, and squatting (as exercise or as a part of work).
Hip bursitis can also be caused by:
- Injury/trauma to the hip (i.e., in a car accident or a fall)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Certain populations are more at risk of developing hip bursitis than others. Older adults and those whose work or play includes repetitive motion are more at risk, as are those with comorbid, systemic issues such as diabetes and gout. Excessive weight increases the demands on the hip joint and can pose a risk for hip bursitis, too.
Is walking good for bursitis?
Exercise is often prescribed for joint pain, but is walking good for hip bursitis?
Start by posing this question to your doctor. They will know more about your specific situation, including the causes of your hip bursitis and any underlying conditions you might have that could affect your recovery.
In the acute stages of hip bursitis, any weight-bearing exercise can increase your pain. This includes even walking on level surfaces at a modest pace.
If you are a dedicated walker and must get back on the trail, take it slow and pay attention to your body. Choose supportive shoes and walk on stable, level ground. In the case of inflammation, pushing past your physical limits can cause further, irreversible damage to the joint, so get the “all-clear” from your doctor first. Then proceed with caution, patience, and careful attention to how your body is feeling.
Can I exercise with hip bursitis?
The short answer to the question “Can I exercise with hip bursitis?” is yes. Indeed, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the contributing factors to developing hip bursitis. Exercise helps achieve and maintain a healthy body-mass index (BMI), and it increases your mental and emotional well-being.
Before beginning any new exercise program, especially in the acute stages of hip bursitis, it’s important to work closely with your doctor. They can help determine the best exercises for hip bursitis and support you in your goals.
The goal of exercise for hip bursitis is to strengthen the muscles that support the body, especially the quadriceps (the large, strong muscles of the thighs), lower back, core, and glutes. These muscles take pressure off the hips and promote excellent posture. They can also generally bring the body into an alignment that supports healthy movement.
Fortunately, there are a variety of easy exercises that you can do every day, with or without the support of a physical therapist, to help strengthen your body and reduce the pain of hip bursitis.
Hip bridges help bring stability to your core while strengthening the gluteal muscles.
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet hips-width distance apart and about a handprint away from your hips. As you inhale, press into your feet and lift your hips up. Keep your hips stable (lift evenly) and your upper back and shoulders on the ground. Exhale slowly to lower.
Repeat this exercise as many times as you can while maintaining proper form, up to 20 times, five times daily.
Bent-knee leg lifts
Lie on your right side, knees bent and your head supported on your bent right arm. Your left arm can be in front of your body or wherever it is comfortable. Lightly engage your core to help maintain balance.
As you inhale, lift your left leg as far as you can, then exhale to lower. Move slowly and breathe deeply as you lift and lower. The slower and more deliberately you move, the more benefit you will get from this motion.
Repeat this controlled motion up to 15 times per side, three sets daily.
Straight leg lifts
Straight leg lifts are completed in much the same way as bent-knee leg lifts (lying on the side and lifting the upper leg as high as you can) but require more engagement in the core to maintain your balance.
You can add to the challenge of this exercise with ankle weights or resistance bands. As always, go slowly and pay attention to any pain that arises or increases in the hip joint.
Both straight-leg and bent-knee leg lifts work the glutes, hamstrings, and iliotibial band that supports movement in the lower body.
Reclined leg circles
Reclined leg circles gently work the hip flexors, quadriceps, and glutes.
Lie on your back and extend your legs. Engage the core to support the lower back and then lift your right leg about three inches off the floor. Maintaining steady breath, make small circles first one way, and then the other. Make five rotations each way, three times. Switch legs and repeat.
If you are not able to perform this without straining your lower back, you can bend the knee of the leg that is not being circled for more support.
Core exercises are also a great way to provide more support and improve posture.
There are a variety of passive core strengthening exercises available for every level of fitness. These are designed to help bring awareness to the center of the body to improve support and stability in the hips and core.
Are there any cardio exercises for hip bursitis?
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to maintaining health while rehabilitating hip bursitis is finding cardio exercises for hip bursitis. Many of the standard exercises designed to get your heart pumping can cause excruciating pain and further damage to the hips, but there are cardio exercises for hip bursitis that are safe.
To start, look for cardio options that are not weight-bearing and do not place pressure on the hips. These may include:
- Swimming: Swimming, especially if your legs are supported on a floatation device so the work can be done mostly by the arms, is a full-body workout that strengthens the core and increases the heart rate
- Cycle ergometer (recumbent bicycle): A cycle ergometer is essentially a bicycle that you work with your arms, cranking the “pedals” to increase your heart rate
- Rowing: Using a rowing machine at the gym may place strain on your hips, but if you can get into a kayak or canoe and row outside, keeping your hips stable, this can provide an excellent cardiovascular workout
- Stand-up paddleboard (SUP): SUP exercise works the core and lower back and can be completed standing up or kneeling for more stability
As inflammation and pain recede, you should be able to resume walking and even running under your doctor’s supervision. Take your time, and don’t push.
What exercises should I avoid with bursitis?
Of course, as with any inflammatory condition, there are hip bursitis exercises that can increase the pain of hip bursitis and cause further damage.
- Running: Although running can eventually be a part of your exercise routine, in the acute stages, the pressure and weight of running can cause debilitating pain.
- Stair-climbing: Great for cardiovascular health but terrible for hip bursitis. Avoid this exercise until you can climb your daily stairs without pain.
- Elliptical: Ellipticals work every muscle in the body and can feel great, except when inflammation is present in the hip joint.
- Some stretches: There are stretches that can aggravate hip bursitis. Some IT band stretches like crossing the leg to the other side of the body while lying down can make hip bursitis pain worse, as can any type of aggressive lateral stretching (e.g., deep side bends). While gently loosening the IT band can be helpful, forcing a stretch into a stabilizing tendon can result in further injury.
- Certain yoga poses: Yes, yoga is excellent for a variety of conditions, but in the case of hip bursitis, there are some forms and postures that should be avoided. Poses that require all of your weight to be placed on the affected hip (e.g., eagle pose or tree) or jumping into and out of postures is not recommended during the acute stages of pain. As inflammation subsides, the very poses that you should avoid can become supportive. Move slowly and work with a qualified teacher to modify as needed.
Learn more about hip bursitis treatments
Is walking good for bursitis? Many pain specialists know that exercise is a crucial part of treating the pain and inflammation of hip bursitis. However, they also have other pain treatments options you can try so you can get back to your normal routine.
You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.