Many women struggle with hip pain and pelvis instability post-baby, including SI Joint dysfunction. One cause of this is weak outer hip muscles. Try the simple exercise in the video below called “the hip hike” to increase outer hip strength, make your pelvis more stable, and reduce pain and discomfort.
If you’re like most people struggling with hip pain and discomfort, you’ve probably found yourself deep in the internet researching causes and cures and watching YouTube videos to figure out what, if anything, you can do to address your hip issues.
If that’s the case, you’ve likely heard these 3 pieces of advice that are super common but, frankly, not helping anyone fix their hips.
3 Myths About Fixing Your Postpartum Hip Problems
Myth 1: Hip Problems Are Just Part Of Life After Pregnancy
We’ve all probably heard this, in some form or another, from some well-meaning, but uninformed individual. They say the pain and discomfort you’re experiencing is just par for the course in your post-pregnancy life. Which basically means…You are just supposed to shut up and deal with it.
This line of thought does NOT help postpartum women.
Yes, of course, your body changes during and after pregnancy.
But it is NOT true that you have to deal with pain, discomfort, tightness or looseness in your hips forever.
All of these symptoms are simply signs that your body is out of balance. When you rebalance your body, you will feel better!
Please, do not just accept physical issues as a necessary part of your post-baby life.
Myth 2: If you have hip problems, you just need to stretch.
The second myth you’ve run across says that your hip issues would be solved by stretching alone. Hip stretches and hip openers are incredibly common suggestions given to anyone experience hip issues.
But if you are struggling with post-baby hip tightness, odds are that tightness is serving a purpose in your body.
Those hip muscles are tight because they are trying to stabilize the pelvis because other muscles aren’t doing their jobs. (i.e. you have muscular imbalances!)
Most often, your hips tighten up because the core, glutes, and pelvic floor are weak and aren’t properly stabilizing the body.
If the hips are desperately holding tight to stabilize the body, you create even more issues by stretching. When you stretch you destabilize an already unstable system. Because of this, you will likely feel tight again very soon after you stretched (and you might even feel tighter than you did before you stretched!!).
For this reason, hip stretches, alone, are ineffective. You need to make sure you are also strengthening the muscles that provide stability for the pelvis (core, glutes, possibly pelvic floor) so that the hip muscles can safely relax.
Myth 3: To fix hip problems, you just need to strengthen your glutes.
Finally, the third piece of common hip advice is that you just need to strengthen your glutes.
Admittedly, the glutes are very important for overall hip health. When working with women to heal their hips, we spend a lot of time on glute strength.
But it isn’t just about the glutes.
The glutes are one part of a larger set of muscular imbalances.
We have multiple muscles that are underworking, and multiple muscles that are overworking.
And to make things even more complicated, some of those overactive muscles actually shut down glute activity and prevent the glutes from working properly (!!)
So you could work your glutes all day every day. You might see some improvement.
But until you balance out the entire system of muscles surrounding the pelvis, you’re not going to stabilize your pelvis and feel better.
If you’re ready to learn how to create healthy, happy hips, join me in my free Happy Hips Masterclass.
Pregnancy does not hurt everyone’s hips…but if pregnancy impacted your hips, you KNOW it.
Your hips may feel loosey-goosey and unstable.
You may feel chronic tightness and tension.
You may feel like your SI joint is unstable or constantly hurting.
Pregnancy can affect our hips in many ways….and it doesn’t matter if you had your baby three weeks ago or 30 years ago. If you haven’t done the work to rebalance your body, you’re still being impacted by the physical changes of pregnancy.
CHANGES CAUSED BY PREGNANCY
Pregnancy creates massive imbalances in the body.
Your core, a fundamental support system for your body, must get weak to create room for the baby. This key change creates imbalances all over the body and can particularly impact our pelvis.
Here’s a pic of your pelvis.
It’s 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 core, pelvic floor, back muscles, psoas, inner and outer hip muscles, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glute muscles.
In a normal body, the muscles connecting to the pelvis are balanced. When properly balanced, they keep your pelvis from moving much when you go for a walk or run or do your favorite exercise. The body likes this because too MUCH movement in the pelvis can put the spine at risk.
So for the pelvis…less movement = GOOD!
But pregnancy takes us out of balance. Certain muscles (like the core and glutes) get weak, and other muscles become overactive to pick up the slack for the weak areas.
And many of these imbalances impact the pelvis.
We feel this as hip pain, tightness, and instability!
So what exactly are the changes during pregnancy that can affect your hips?
INSTABILITY ABOVE THE PELVIS
First, as I mentioned above, your belly expands to accommodate the growing baby. Your core muscles have to lose strength to allow for that expansion. This is a big deal.
Normally, your core plays a key role in keeping your spine stable.
When the core can’t play the role of a spine stabilizer, other muscles will start working overtime to protect the spine.
Back muscles tighten to compensate for the weak core. This includes the paraspinal muscles and the quadratus lumborum (QL).
And even the hip muscle, the psoas (which connects to the spine and the legs).
End result above the pelvis? Tightness in the psoas and back, and a lack of stability for the pelvis from above!
INSTABILITY BELOW THE PELVIS
As the muscles of the back and the psoas are working overtime, the impact is also felt below your pelvis. The psoas is usually a hip flexor, but while it’s doing the job of stabilizing your spine it can’t move your leg effectively, so other hip muscles begin to take over the job of the psoas.
One of those muscles, the Tensor Fascia Latae (or TFL) on the outside of your hip, ends up doing a lot of extra lifting to get your leg in front of you and it becomes overworked. For many of us with IT band issues, the TFL is likely overworking since they are directly connected.
As the TFL works overtime, it inhibits the glutes from working properly (a.k.a. it shuts the glutes off!). The glutes already lost some strength over the course of pregnancy, but the overactive TFL will reduce the glutes more, causing them to become even weaker.
Weakness in the glutes results in muscles deep inside the pelvis, like the deep hip rotators (e.g. piriformis) and pelvic floor muscles tightening up to try to create the stability that the glutes usually create!
End result below the pelvis? Overactive outer hips and deep hip muscles, and weak glutes mean the pelvis isn’t properly stabilized from below!
So, as you can see, pregnancy creates imbalances in the muscles that stabilize the pelvis from both above AND below.
This means that the pelvis is now more mobile.
But, remember, for the pelvis, less movement = Good!
More movement = Bad!
The body doesn’t like a pelvis that moves around a lot. A pelvis that moves a lot can damage the spine.
HOW YOU EXPERIENCE THIS
The body will do everything it can to create stability. This might mean your hip flexors, pelvic floor, inner thighs, or back muscles get even tighter to try and keep the pelvis from moving.
But those muscles aren’t as good as stabilizing the pelvis as the core and glutes, so even though they are really tight, your pelvis is still pretty unstable.
What this feels like is lots of tightness and discomfort, paired with instability.
Feeling like your hips are SO tight, but you still have one side “coming out,” or your SI joint getting locked up all the time.
So how did pregnancy hurt your hips? It created imbalances that decreased your pelvis stability.
It’s normal! It’s predictable!
And, good news for you, it’s fixable!
What’s the solution?
Very simply, we have to rebalance the muscles of the body. We have to get the weak muscles working harder and overworked muscles to relax. We need each piece of our body to be doing the job it was intended to do.
We can’t pinpoint one muscle or area of the body and say ‘I’ll just make this stronger.’
Each muscle we use is impacted by those around it. We have to rebalance the entire system.
Pregnancy changed your hips, but you’re not doomed to live with way forever.
Some of the most common (and beloved!) poses in yoga include traditional hip openers…but these poses may not be serving your post-baby body. Read below (or watch the video) to understand why!
As a new yoga teacher I LOVED putting people into some long hip openers. Think half-pigeon and Baddha Konasana, poses where legs are externally rotating to open the hips.
Well, you know what they say… when you know better, you do better. Now, when I see extended hip openers in yoga, I cringe. For most postpartum bodies, these poses aren’t helping…and are possibly making hip issues worse.
Pregnancy As An Injury
In many ways, pregnancy acts like an injury to the body.
Pregnancy creates certain muscular imbalances and these imbalances destabilize parts of the body.
Most notably, the core and pelvic floor weaken, and the back and hip flexors tighten to compensate.
The Role of The Core
In a normal body, the core creates stability for the spine and pelvis (among other jobs).
The muscle tone in your core keeps your spine from being too loosy-goosy. This prevents herniated discs and other back issues that we don’t want.
The abdominals also stabilize the pelvis from above and keep the pelvis from shifting around with every step we take.
Muscular Changes During Pregnancy
However, as your baby grows during pregnancy, your core muscles weaken and can’t provide the stability the body needs.
Other parts of the body pick up the slack. The muscles of the back and the hip flexors, especially the psoas, lock down to stabilize the spine.
This creates a lovely, messy cascade in the body.
With the psoas doing the job of the core, the pelvis loses stability.
As a result, another muscle, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), starts locking down.
The TFL is on your outer hip, around where your pant pockets would be. It’s primarily responsible for turning the leg out.
But when it needs to, it can tighten to create stability in the pelvis. (Sidenote: the TFL connects to the IT band. If your ITB has been bothering you since pregnancy, the TFL might be the culprit!)
So, as your core is weakening, the back, psoas and TFL are working overtime on jobs they aren’t designed to do. This impacts other body parts.
The TFL is a bully to the glutes, and shuts them off.
When that happens it causes more instability for the pelvis, so other areas kick in.
Sometimes this includes the pelvic floor. (If you’ve got a tight pelvic floor…this might be why!)
What do you get from this big mess?
Things like extremely tight hips, an unstable pelvis, SI joint instability, IT band flare ups, and that post-pregnancy mom-butt!
STRETCHING IS NOT THE ANSWER!
When we feel tight and achy…what do we do?
Most of us immediately think ‘STRETCH!’
We get into half-pigeon and other hip openers to get some relief.
Unfortunately, when we stretch, we force muscles to lengthen that are working REALLY hard to create stability.
Think about that for a moment…what are you doing to your body?
By stretching muscles that are holding things in place, you destabilize the entire system.
This is the reason that any relief that comes from the stretching doesn’t last for long…and why you may feel EVEN tighter afterward.
Your muscles are trying to protect you from the length you’ve created.
A Different Approach
So what do we do? If you’re feeling chronically tight or unstable, I know you want relief.
And while stretching can be helpful, our top priority must be to rebalance the imbalances pregnancy created.
We need to strengthen muscles that are weak so that the overworked muscles can chill out!
Hi there! I’m Catherine Middlebrooks, a yoga instructor and postpartum corrective exercise specialist.
I’m on a mission to help moms reclaim their core and pelvic floor strength so they can get back to the activities they love.