Photo credit: Getty ImagesYou'd be grimacing like that, too. It looks like New York Yankees star third baseman Alex Rodriguez will have to undergo...
Rodriguez is suffering from hip impingement, which is when the edges of your hip joint—the bare bone that’s not covered by protective cartilage—rub against each other. The bone forms a protective bump in that spot, almost like a callus. As the bony bump grows, it starts to limit your range of motion in the hip, and can eventually tear into the cushioning labrum. The Yankees say that labrum tear is likely what benched A-Rod during the playoffs this year.
“The tissue in the labrum doesn’t heal itself on its own, so you have to go in surgically and repair the tear along with cleaning up the bumps on the bone that caused it,” Steven Harwin, M.D., chief of adult reconstructive surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, tells MensHealth.com. While those operations are usually successful, the results are less predictable than a comparable knee surgery, Dr. Harwin says.
Hip impingement surgery is growing more common among professional athletes, including Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies and Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay. While some of that increase is due to better imaging that allows doctors to pinpoint these hip problems, there’s also a matter of athletes playing through pain.
The problems begin with the natural variations in bone structure from one person to another. “You can have people where the socket in the hip is tilted in one direction or another, or the ball in the femur is tilted,” says Dr. Harwin. Those subtle differences, usually impossible to notice from the outside, can alter how a person walks, runs, or turns.
As athletes’ bodies try to find a way around the range-of-motion limitations, their unconscious adaptations wind up making the problem worse. “Someone like A-Rod is an athletic genius, so even if he’s in a bad mechanical position, his body can still figure out a workaround and generate a freakish amount of force,” says Kelly Starrett, D.P.T., owner of MobilityWOD.com. “Athletes only ask for help when they’re in a lot of pain or when they’re losing.”
And if a hip impingement can happen to a star player who has the benefit of the Yankees’ high-dollar conditioning and coaching, it can definitely happen to you. Why should you care? Well, better hip flexibility can improve athletic abilities ranging from your golf swing to the squat and deadlift. (Just ask powerlifter Donnie Thompson, who worked with Starrett before breaking a world record 1,260-pound squat.)
Here’s how to head off a hip injury before it forces you to the sidelines. (Want to heal faster, train smarter, and build an injury-proof body? Discover the secret to staying Pain-Free for Life.)
Test your range of motion. Stand with your heels separated by the width of your fist. Slowly drop down into a squat position. “You should be able to bring your butt close to the back of your heels,” says Starrett. If not, the limited movement in your ankles, knees, and hips can lead to bigger problems down the line.
Give your hip more freedom. You sit all day at work, which pushes your hip bone deep into the joint (allowing the unprotected bone to rub), and causing tight muscles in your hips and quads that lead to bad form when you hit the gym. If you didn’t pass the squat test, try these three moves for 5 to 10 minutes every night for a week:
- Roll your quads side to side on a trigger point therapy ball, softball, or lacrosse ball to loosen tight muscles.
- Open up the hip joint by getting on your hands and knees, with your left knee a few inches farther back than your right. Rotate your right knee so that your right ankle is braced on the ground in front of your left knee, then slowly drive back your hips and hold the position. Repeat with the other side.
Photo courtesy of Kelly StarrettTry Starrett’s “Couch Stretch,” which is meant to counteract the hip muscle shortening you get from sitting on the couch all day. Do this: Kneel with your right shin braced vertically against a wall, with your left foot planted on the ground in front of you. Keeping your hands on the ground to support you, slowly drive forward with your hips until you feel the stretch on your right hip. Hold, then repeat with the other side. Check out this video of Starrett demonstrating the move.
Pay attention to pain. You’ll feel a hip impingement deep in your groin, since that’s where the ball of your femur slots into the socket in your hip joint. Still not sure if it’s muscle-related, like a groin pull? Lay on your back, and bring one knee to you chest. If you rotate your knee inward and the pain gets worse, that’s a sign of hip impingement, says Dr. Harwin. Once you’re at that point, your best bet is to head to an orthopedist for x-rays and potentially an MRI to dig deeper into the problem.
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