Hip pain is a problem that most runners encounter at some point or another in their careers. Since you have ended up on this page, it is a fair guess that you are struggling with a hip injury currently. I am tempted to stop you right here and say, "Go see a doctor," before giving you any other advice.
It is imperative to warn you that a small hip pain can grow into a big problem very quickly. Hips heal notoriously slowly because if you intend to move at all, you must use your hips. With most other injuries, you can stay off the injured area for a while and allow it to recover. Hips, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to avoid using. So when pain starts to appear in the hips, addressing that pain immediately is of the utmost importance.
If the injury started recently and is no more than a dull pain, there are several actions you can take to help heal the hips and prevent a more serious injury from developing. First, cut your mileage significantly or stop running entirely for 7-10 days. Next, begin stretching not only your hips, but all the muscles of the upper leg.
Often hip injuries occur because the muscles surrounding the hip are imbalanced, causing them to tug at the hip. Make sure to loosen your hamstrings, quads, hip flexors (which are on the front of the hip above the quads), glutes and the IT band (running from your hip to the outside of your knee). You will also want to use a foam roller on all the areas around the hips and upper legs. If you have never used a foam roller before, brace yourself, because it is basically an unforgiving massage that works out the muscle tension in your legs. After a long session on the foam roller, you will be rewarded with a relief from pain in your hips. Finally, be sure to ice the injured several times a day to reduce swelling and speed recovery.
If the injury doesn't seem to be responding to treatment, pain has persisted for more than 7 days or if the pain becomes acute then stop running immediately and see a doctor. The most serious hip injuries are stress fractures and labral tears (when the cartilage surrounding the socket of the hip tears). Both injuries require extensive treatment and neglecting them can cause lasting damage.
At the end of the day, the best way to deal with hip injuries is to avoid them in the first place. Remember that hip injuries are often caused by imbalances in regions surrounding the hip. Developing a strength routine for the upper legs is important in keeping your hips healthy. There are also strength routines for the hips themselves. Personally, I find hurdle routines incredibly effective.
Basically a hurdle routine involves lining up several hurdles and walking over them in different ways to strengthen the hips. A short introduction to hurdle exercises might look like this:
- Line up six hurdles.
- Go over each hurdle leading with your right leg (make sure you are doing all the work with your hips, not turning your whole body), then allow your left leg to trail (which means follow).
- Go over each hurdle leading with your left leg, allow your right leg to trail.
- Go over each hurdle backwards leading with your right leg... repeat leading with your left leg.
- Straighten your legs and swing your right leg around the side of a hurdle, then follow with your left leg... repeat, but lead with your left leg.
There are many ways to strengthen your hips in addition to hurdle drills and if you want to learn more, talking to a trusted physical therapist would be a great idea. If there is one take-away from every injury, it is that you always know more after the ordeal than you knew before.
Use the knowledge you have gained to make yourself a stronger runner. Good luck on your road to recovery!