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Weak Hip Abductors Can Be an Actual Pain In the Butt for Runners

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Most runners live in perpetual fear of injury. And so we strength train, stretch, and foam roll to help keep our lower half healthy. But there may be a muscle group we’re overlooking: Weak hip abductors are linked with hip tendonitis, according to a new study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, which can seriously hamper your stride.

Australian researchers looked at hip strength in people with gluteal tendinopathy, or hip tendinitis, which is inflammation in the tendons that connect your gluteal muscle to your hip bone. Compared to those who were injury-free, people with the troubled area had weak hip abductors. (Read up on these 6 Imbalances That Cause Pain—and How to Fix Them.)

Since this study was just observational, researchers aren’t entirely sure how weak hip abductors causes inflammation and pain, but a study published in Sports Medicine earlier this year by the same team earlier points to a pretty viable culprit. If your muscles are weak, it’s likely that the deep fibers of the gluteal tendons can’t withstand the compression and pressure load that comes with every stride and muscle contraction. This potentially causes the tendons to break down over time, which in turn would causes pain and, if left untreated, injury. 

And it doesn’t just sound scary: “Weakness in your glutes can cause different running injuries such as IT band syndrome, or knee pain like patellofemoral syndrome and patellar tendonitis (runner’s knee),” says New York-based physical therapist and medical coordinator for Major League Soccer John Gallucci, Jr. (Watch out for these 7 Workout Routines Secretly Causing Knee Pain.)

Plus, that study in Sports Medicine found that inflammation in the gluteal muscles is more common in woman than men.

But if running strengthens your quads, calves, and the like, shouldn’t the workout itself help strengthen your hips? Not so much. “Running is pretty much a straight ahead movement and your gluteal muscles control side-to-side movements (as well as posture),” says study author Bill Vicenzino, Ph.D., director of Sports Injuries Rehabilitation and Prevention for Health at the University of Queensland. (And that would lead to the dreaded Dead Butt Syndrome.)

The good news? The research suggests specifically strengthening your hip and gluteal muscles can help with the pain and inflammation—something Vicenzino’s team is currently studying to confirm. (Don't forget about these 6 Strength Exercises Every Runner Should Be Doing.)

Try these two exercises from Galluci to strengthen your hip abduction.

1. Lying Hip Abduction: Lie on right side, both legs outstretched. Raise right leg straight up in the air, forming “V” with legs. Lower to start position. Repeat on the other side.

2. Heel Bridge: Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flexed so that just heels remain on the ground, arms down by sides. Engage abs and lift hips off the floor. Slowly lower tailbone to the floor and lightly tap down before lifting back up into bridge.

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