You know what it is: one hip pushed out to the side when standing, usually to hold a child. In the physical therapy world, it is “Hip Adduction Syndrome.” Daddies can get it too, and so can non-parents, but women who are mothers are most susceptible. Over time, standing this way puts pressure on the hip and predisposes the lower back, knees, neck and shoulders to arthritis.
In the image above, notice how the right hip is pushed outward and upward, causing an imbalance at the pelvis. The right shoulder comes down to compensate, causing a curve in the spine. Because one shoulder is low, the neck is not centered, creating a vulnerability where the neck meets the spine (at that bump which is the C7 or T1 vertebra.) The left knee caves inward, and this causes stress on the inner knee and causes the left foot to overpronate (roll inward excessively). The right knee also endures extra stress.
When this position is performed by a new mother, the effect is exaggerated because of her loose ligaments (tissues that attach bones to each other). The hormones that allow us to give birth do so by loosening our ligaments, and these hormones stay around for a while. Once stretched, ligaments do not regain their previous tightness.
What is a mother to do?
We can learn to tighten our muscles to prevent our hips from sagging this way. We have to be intentional about it, because, as many of you mothers know, these muscles do not just spring back on their own. The lower abdominals have been stretched and lengthened from pregnancy, so they are reluctant to shorten and tighten. (Learn to tighten them with the Stronger, Tighter Abdominals post). The right gluteus medius muscle becomes stretched out when we stand with the right hip shift, making it difficult to activate.
But it is so much easier to stand with the hip shift!
Yes, that is true. The body will do what is easiest, right up until you experience too much mobility and pain in one area. Common diagnoses include bursitis, sciatica, iliotibial band syndrome and piriformis syndrome–all due to this movement pattern.
We must teach ourselves to tighten the muscles to get the spine back into neutral. Yes, it will be harder when we hold a child. We begin by isolating the muscle without any additional weight. We can use yoga.
Yoga poses should focus on hip stability, not flexibility
It is important that yoga poses for opening the hips are performed with hip stability. This means not stretching as far as we can into the following poses: high and low lunge, warriors 1, 2 and 3, and any pose that involves standing balance. Just because we can go further into a pose does not mean we should. When we go too far, we are unable to activate the joint stabilizing muscles. Consequently, the joint is put at risk.
Look at the difference in the hip position between these two images.
Notice how the left image mimics the “mommy hip” illustration.
Make the correction to low lunge
- Press the right heel into the floor as you draw the right knee out
- Lift the spine upward away from the left shin which grounds into the floor
Now we are strengthening the muscles that will keep our hips aligned in standing and when lifting a child. (Specifically, we have tightened up the right gluteus maximus and medius by activating external rotation and abduction forces at the hip.)
Avoid hip adduction forces throughout the day
Any time the knee is pulled in toward the midline of the body (hip adduction), this contributes to “mommy hip.” Crossing the legs when sitting or letting the knees come together when getting up from sitting can also contribute to this problem.
Make the correction when standing
- Remind yourself to tighten the butt muscles frequently
- Try not to let weight shift over into one hip more than the other
- When you hold your child on one hip, tighten the muscles of that hip to prevent excessive sway
If you find that you cannot, it means you need a break!