Can exercise help my back, hip and leg pain?

Jane mugshot for JQAI am 61. For many years I have had back­ache in my lumbar spine, and now I also have osteoarth­ritis in my left hip. I get excru­ci­at­ing pain on my hip and all down the out­side of my leg, into my shin bone. Could you sug­gest some gentle exer­cises that would help?

While exer­cise can­not reverse the dam­age of osteoarth­ritis, it can help to reduce pain and dis­com­fort. It can also have a very bene­fi­cial effect on back pain, espe­cially if there is no obvi­ous cause (such as a disc pro­lapse). Bear in mind, though, that in order to feel the bene­fit, you will need to do exer­cises reg­u­larly (3 to 4 times a week) and be patient: it may take a couple of months to really appre­ci­ate the effects.

Here are four gentle exer­cises. On days when your arth­ritic hip is very bad (swollen, in “flare up”), don’t do the exer­cises but try to keep your leg mov­ing. And be aware that some people find their arth­ritic pain gets worse when they start a new exer­cise pro­gramme, before it starts to improve.

Exercise 1: pel­vic tilt. Lie on your back, feet flat and knees bent. Sucking your lower stom­ach down into the floor, care­fully curl your lower spine up as you lift your bot­tom just off the floor. Then reverse the move­ment slowly. Try to think of “peel­ing” your spine, one ver­tebra at a time, start­ing at the bot­tom, and then repla­cing each ver­tebra in the oppos­ite order as you lower down again. Do 12 to 15 slow, con­trolled roll –throughs. This is a gentle spine and pel­vis mobil­iser which you can safely do every day. Click here for the full exer­icse

Exercise 2: The Clam. Lie on your side (put a pil­low or other pad­ding under your lower hip if neces­sary) with your knees bent in front of you and with hips, knees and feet neatly stacked. Keeping your feet glued together, squeeze your bot­tom and open up your top knee a little way. Hold for 5, keep­ing your bot­tom squeezed, then lower the knee back down. Repeat 10 times on each side. It is import­ant not to let your pel­vis move at all as you lift your knee – the top hip should stay still through­out. Click here for the full exer­icse

Exercise 3: lower stom­ach suck-​up. Lie on your stom­ach, head in hands. Give a little cough to feel the lower stom­ach muscle con­tract­ing, so you know which one to suck up. Suck up the muscle firmly, try­ing to draw it up through your back. Keep pulling while you count to 10, and remem­ber to keep breath­ing through­out. Rest, then repeat 5 times in all. Over the weeks, increase the length of hold gradu­ally to 30 secs or more. Click here for the full exer­icse

Exercise 4: side-​lying leg raise Start in the same pos­i­tion as for the “Oyster”. But this time lift your knee and foot so that your leg lifts up evenly a few inches. Hold for 5, then replace smoothly. Repeat 12 to 15 times on each side. Click here for the full exer­icse

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