Care for your hips

Our hips are taken for granted by most of us in the prime of life but one unexpected fall can serve to highlight just how important they are.

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My hip hurts after falling on it three weeks ago. This is the story: I was standing in a carpenter's shop and tripped on a power cable while moving to another side of the work table. I twisted around to avoid falling flat on the baby I was carrying. My elbow, hip and ego took the full force of the fall. I sprang up from the floor, embarrassed to be so clumsy. Mr Shokher, the carpenter, was worried, but I was totally unaware that there might be more damage than the tiny scrape on my arm so I brushed off the concern.

This week, though, the left hip joint feels sore after a vigorous walk. Almost like it might be just about to pop out of joint. And suddenly, just like that, I have noticed how important my hips are. Hips are necessary for all kinds of mobility. They are very basic. A taken-for-granted core joint. The hip treatment in my particular case - a self-diagnosed hip strain - has been rest, stretches, ibuprofen, and gentle walking exercise. According to a physiotherapist, there are several stretches that can be done lying on the back, bending the legs and leaning from one side to the other. Another stretch, also done while lying on the back, has you place one leg over the other as if sitting cross-legged and swaying side to side.

Hip dislocation is a much more serious problem than hip strain, and so painful that patients are unable to move and may not have feeling in the foot. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of hip dislocations. Treatment requires manipulating the hip bone and femur back into their ball and socket position. It can then take up to three months for the hip to recover. Displacement can damage protective cartilage covering the bone, which leads to a greater chance of developing arthritis in the joint.

I might be in the clear with the dislocation, but arthritis runs in the family, and I now have a sense of the way it can limit mobility. My new-found respect for the hip joint has opened my eyes. A new study by researchers at the Portuguese Institute of Rheumatology showed that just three months of exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis produced significant improvements in their mobility and quality of life. The longitudinal study followed eight physically inactive patients between the ages of 46 and 71 who had the disease for between three and 30 years. During the three months, the patients did aerobic and strengthening exercises for 50-60 minutes three times each week. The exercise reduced the need for daily corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory medicine and improved levels of depression and anxiety, according to the Health Assessment Questionnaire, a disability index measurement of physical functioning.