Not everyone experiences postpartum hip pain…but, if you have hip pain after pregnancy, you KNOW it.
- Your hips may feel loosey-goosey and unstable…even popping out of place on occasion.
- You may feel chronic tightness and tension.
- Or maybe the pain appears while sleeping, or after walking, sitting, or running.
This is a common issue that is not often discussed.
Luckily, there are options to help.
In this article, we discuss the causes of hip pain postpartum and how to address it.
And it doesn’t matter if you had your baby three weeks, or 30 years ago.
Rebalancing the muscles of your body can improve your hip health and function, regardless of age.
The Prevalence and Impact of Postpartum Hip Pain
Postpartum hip pain, also known as pelvic girdle pain, is not often discussed but is very common among postpartum women.
One study reported that up to 8% of women experience disabling hip issues after pregnancy.
This number would be much higher if it included women with less severe, yet still serious, hip issues.
These hip issues have a substantial negative impact on a woman’s quality of life.
I receive emails weekly from women describing hip pain that wakes them in the night, and limits their activity and ability to do household tasks.
And many women feel that medical professionals, family, and employers disregard their pain.
We have far too many women suffering from a reduced quality of life because of hip pain.
Let’s discuss why this issue is so common.
Why Postpartum Hip Pain Happens
Postpartum hip pain happens because the muscles surrounding the pelvis get out of balance during pregnancy.
This results in areas of tension and tightness, as well as instability of the pelvis (a.k.a. too much movement in the pelvis).
Let’s dive into how and why this happens.
The Role and Anatomy of the Pelvis
The pelvis is the gateway between your upper and lower body and is involved in every step you take.
It’s also connected to, and impacted by, MANY muscles including:
- the abdominals/core,
- pelvic floor,
- back muscles,
- the psoas,
- inner and outer hip muscles,
- and glute muscles.
That’s a lot of muscles!
In ideal conditions, all of these muscles connecting to the pelvis are relatively balanced.
None are working too hard.
None are underworking.
This balance of muscles keeps the pelvis stable and prevents it from moving too much when you walk, run, or exercise.
The body likes a stable pelvis.
Too MUCH movement in the pelvis puts the spine at risk.
So for the pelvis, being balanced and stable is ideal.
Pregnancy Changes Muscular Balance Around the Pelvis
But during pregnancy, the balance of those muscles changes substantially.
Some Muscles Get Weak
In particular, pregnancy weakens two of the key areas of the body that help keep the pelvis stable: the core, and the glutes.
Your core, a fundamental support system for your body, gets weak to create room for the baby.
Likewise, the glutes tend to get weak from changes to the way you walk and stand during pregnancy.
Other Muscles Overwork To Compensate for the Weak Core & Glutes
When the core and glutes get weak, other muscles become overactive to compensate for the weak areas.
This results in tight, overworked muscles both above and below the pelvis.
Some of the muscles that overwork to compensate for the weak core and glutes include:
the quadratus lumborum back muscles (QL),
the psoas muscles,
the tensor fascia latae (TFL) on the outer hip,
the piriformis muscles,
the adductor (inner thigh) muscles,
And, the quadriceps and hamstrings.
Odds are, if you are reading this article, you experience tightness and pain in at least one of those muscles.
These muscles are overworking to do the job of the core and glutes.
But, unfortunately, these muscles aren’t designed to stabilize the pelvis long-term.
And, over time, issues arise.
Common Postpartum Hip Issues
Does any of this sound familiar?
- Your muscles feel super tight but your pelvis still seems unstable and too mobile?
- You always feel like you need to stretch but your muscles tighten up again right after?
- You have pain
- deep within the pelvis,
- in the butt,
- along the side of your leg, or
- on one or both sides of your low back?
If so, these are all signs that you are experiencing some imbalance in the hip muscles.
As I mentioned above, the body wants a stable pelvis.
When the core and glutes are weak, the hip flexors, pelvic floor, inner thighs, and back muscles get tighter and more active.
The body is doing the best it can to keep the pelvis stable and keep the spine safe.
Thank you body!
But, because those muscles don’t stabilize the pelvis as well as the core and glutes, you start to feel the effects.
What this feels like in your body is lots of tightness and discomfort in the hips, paired with instability.
A sense of your hips being SO tight, but still “coming out,” or locking up.
So, to summarize, why do you have hip pain after pregnancy?
Pregnancy created muscle weakness that decreased your pelvis stability.
And your body has recruited other muscles (which are working very hard!) to stabilize your pelvis.
This results in hip pain and instability.
It’s normal! It’s predictable!
And, good news for you, it’s fixable!
How To Address Postpartum Hip Pain
The root cause of hip pain is that the muscles surrounding the pelvis are out of balance and, as a result, the pelvis is less stable.
So, What’s The Solution?
Very simply, we have to rebalance the muscles surrounding the pelvis to increase pelvis stability.
We have to strengthen the weak muscles and relax the overworked muscles.
We need to strengthen the core and glutes and relax the tight muscles like the adductors, piriformis, and TFL.
We need each piece of our body to be doing the job it was made to do.
We can’t pinpoint one muscle or area of the body and say ‘I’ll just make this stronger.’
Because each muscle we use is impacted by the surrounding muscles, we have to rebalance the entire system.
The 3-Part Fix Your Hips Framework For Postpartum Hip Pain
The process I teach in the Fix Your Hips program is designed to create lasting balance and stability in the pelvis and hips.
Rather than looking at the hips in isolation, the program takes a whole-body approach to hip health that creates balance in all the muscles surrounding the pelvis.
To address hip instability and pain you must:
- STRENGTHEN your core, glutes, and other key muscles to give the pelvis the stability it needs. (Click here for a simple outer hip strengthener),
- RELAX overworked muscles to reduce long-standing pain patterns. And,
- REINFORCE those patterns in everyday movements so that you improve muscle balance while walking, driving, and playing with your kids. (Click here for tips to improve your walking)
All 3 of these components are essential to creating hip health.
Very often, I see individuals missing one of these key elements.
For example, one might over-emphasize stretching which can result in greater pelvis instability and even tighter muscles.
Another example is an individual trying to strengthen one specific muscle group, like the glutes. Focusing on strength alone, without addressing the overworked muscles that need to relax, typically produces very slow improvement to hip health.
If you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels trying to make your hips feel better, you will improve your results by including all 3 Fix Your Hip components into your daily routine.
Yes, pregnancy changed your hips.
But you don’t have to live with postpartum hip pain for the rest of your life.
By restoring balance to the pelvis you can reduce your pain and improve the quality of your life.
Want to learn more? Click here to watch the free Happy Hips masterclass.
What about Labral Tears?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a hip labral tear, you likely wonder if this information still applies to you.
In most cases, it does.
More and more research is questioning the relationship between labral tears and hip pain.
Yes, many individuals with hip pain have labral tears.
But many studies show that labral tears are also common in individuals WITHOUT hip pain.
In one study, 70 people WITHOUT hip pain were scanned, and 27 of them (38.6%) were found to have labral tears. The prevalence of labral tears in individuals without hip pain brings into question whether labral tears actually cause pain.
And research suggests that strength and movement training, like in the Fix Your Hips program, can reduce pain and improve hip function in individuals with labral tears.
So, if you have a labral tear, the approach designated in this article should improve hip function and reduce pain.