Back, Knee or Ankle Pain? A Surprising New Cause

Turns out there’s a surprising, often-overlooked cause: weak hip muscles. And there’s a cure: two easy exercises to make the aches vanish 

by Ginny Graves
back pain woman picture
Photograph: Ugurhan Betin

The surprising news: Studies show that some joint and connective tissue troubles can be tamed with easy hip--building exercises. When Dierks, Ferber and a handful of other researchers around the U.S. helped runners strengthen their hips, their knee pain was significantly lessened. Ferber’s study resulted in a 43 percent reduction in pain; in Dierks’s- subjects, the aches all but vanished. Both researchers also noted improvement in participants’ running strides, with the upper leg tracking more consistently toward the knee. Similar exercise programs have reduced pain in people suffering from low backaches, foot and ankle problems and inflamed IT bands, which until recently were commonly treated with foam rolling.

And how about your hips?

To find out if you’re weak in this area, take the single-leg squat test: Stand on one leg and bend the knee as if you’re doing a regular two-legged squat. “If the knee of your bending leg collapses inward or you feel very shaky and wobbly, your hip on that side is probably weak,” says Dierks. To toughen these stabilizing muscles, do hip-specific exercises (see The Five-Minute Pain Fix) a few times a week or more, depending on the severity of your condition. For greater benefits, practice activities that require side-to-side motion or a focus on balance, such as basketball, yoga, Pilates, ice skating, skiing or barre workouts.  

Next: Exercise Aches You Should Never Ignore

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Originally published in the March 2012 issue

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