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“Clicking” Hips During Pilates or Any Other Exercise

Posted Feb 10 2009 10:21am

I was reading a Podiatry blog today and found a discussion on “clicking” hips.  Since this is such a common issue in Pilates class, especially doing the One Leg Circles, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on the topic!

In my 15 years of experience teaching Pilates, when a client experiences “clicking” or popping in the hip with movement, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and increased lower core support, as well as focused exercises to improve hip mechanics will assist with this issue.

In a Pilates Mat class there are a few things I do immediately to modify the One Leg Circle, until clients can make it happen with no “clicking” noise or aggravation.

1. Decrease the size of the circle and range of motion of the leg while it’s circling. A smaller range of motion should temporarily solve the problem, and allow the client to reach the leg longer creating more free space in the socket for movement, and helping them focus on the support and stability needed through the pelvis and “standing” leg.

2. Bend the knee to do the circles. This shortens the lever and will adjust where the ball is sitting in the socket through the circle.

3. Use the support of a strap and assistance of the arms to help hold up the leg. If the hamstrings are very tight (back of the thigh), or the quadriceps are gripping to pull the leg around and up (front of the thigh) the leg cannot move freely from the hip because of the tension caused by muscle contraction and over-holding at inappropriate moments. [If I’m working privately with a client and have access to the Trapeze Table, the use of one leg spring to practice circles provides a similar support along with resistance to strengthen the leg throughout the range of movement.

Then, education about the benefits of using and finding the Pelvic Floor is incorporated into their class or training program.  I teach how to find and use the Pelvic Floor as an exercise all by itself first, and then add this into other exercises until clients can confidently find and fire it at will! 

Contracting the pelvic floor for support during exercise helps to take the pressure off the hip joint, frees up the ball in the socket, and allows movement without the noise or aggravation.

With poor gait mechanics, a shortened stride, slightly posterior tilted pelvis, and overuse of the rec fem (one of the four quadriceps muscles,) the thigh bone is held to far to the front of the socket. Try to move the leg in a free range and it’s not going to happen easily until the pelvis and hip muscles have a different relationship.

In my experience - this postural and mechanical use of the body is apparent in many if not most of the people who have walked through my door for Pilates. The great news is things can quickly improve with an understanding of how to find and use the pelvic floor as well as exercises to get a better understanding of posterior/inferior ball & socket placement, how to move the ball in the socket, and how to move the socket around the ball. If the leg is working mechanically well from the hip, the foot and lower leg have a better shot at good mechanics too!

Not only is the clicking apparent on one leg circles, but for some clients doing the Roll Up, or Neck Pull, you may see one or both hips make a funny, clunky shift in the transition from laying down to a seated position.  The reason for this again might be not enough pelvic floor, clients are “hanging off their hip flexors” and trying to move.

Think about the levers of the body –what parts of the body are moving and supporting during exercise?

  • In the One Leg Circle, the thigh (ball & socket) are moving with a stable pelvis.
  • In the Roll Up and Neck Pull, the pelvis is moving (around the ball & socket) with a stable thigh.

So you’ve got movement from above, the ball and socket, and movement from below…the support to move is the same!  More pelvic floor action will free up the movement and reduce / eliminate the “clicks.”

I will follow up in the next couple weeks with posts to share how I help clients find their floors!  And maybe a few great exercises to work on hip mechanics.

What are your thoughts on eliminating a “Clicking” Hip???

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