Hip Joint Popping and Centering the Hip Joint to Avoid It
Tips for Dealing with hip discomfort and understanding your hip joints so that they last longer
A recent goal has been to do both Tai Ji and yoga without my hip popping all of the time.
A hip pop, if you haven't experienced it, is like something within the hip joint is suddenly adjusting, like a tendon or ligament suddenly jumps from one position to the other, like plucking a guitar string. At least that's what it feels like.
Part of it is the type of movements that I do and teach. I notice it in my students also after doing particular movements.
Movements that cause hip popping tend to be from positions where the hips are bearing weight and there is a transition from one position to another. One action during which it is particularly prevalent is coming out of a standing forward bend, generally when passing through horizontal.
Learning to Prevent Hip Popping
Feeling When a Hip Pop is About to Happen
Moving slowly I can often feel when a pop is about to happen. There's a slight increase in tension. Not an uncomfortable amount, just indicative that popping is about to occur.
Having spotted the indicators, I can then sometimes adjust either the thigh or pelvis to relieve that tension before popping occurs.
With yoga and tai ji both, preventing hip popping may also be a matter of creating additional tension in the right places. Positioning of the feet, heels, ankles and knees as well as tension across these joints can have an affect on tension and positioning of the hip joint. So as well as focusing on the hip joint I'm also focused on these parts of the body also.
Hip Popping when Doing Tai Ji
With tai ji, all of the above applies, but there is an additional factor that I've also found extremely helpful of late.
And it goes back to the idea of center.
How do you center a joint? Another word for this is centration. How do you centrate a joint?
Centering the Hip Joint
To center (or centrate) the hip joint, some suggest that maximum contact between ball and socket of the hip joint is important.
My understanding is that the ball and socket of the hip joint don't actually touch. Instead, in the ideal, space is maintained between the two by a combination of tension and pressure. The tension occurs in the joint capsule envelope and is in part due to muscular activation. The pressure comes from the fluid within the joint capsule envelope and is dependent on tension within the joint capsule envelope.
The tension is important because it is generated by muscle activation and because it is something that can be sensed.
Preventing Bone Contact at the Hip Joint
With a hip joint bearing weight, the weight of the body could press down on a joint potentially squeezing fluid from out between butting joint surfaces allowing bones to touch. To prevent this, muscle activity could be used to add tension to the joint capsule to resist fluid being squeezed out from between the two bones.
When moving, with the hip weighted, a movement might take the hip out of a range where one set of muscles is activated and another takes over to keep maintain joint capsule tension and thus fluid pressure.
Or it may be that some connective tissue structure has to keep active to keep the joint safe and so undergoes a dramatic (and twanging) change as the body shifts.
Preparing the Hip Joint to Bear Weight
Another scenario is shifting weight from one foot to another, something that frequently occurs in Tai ji. Here the hip to consider is the hip that is about to bear weight. Is it positioned so that it is as ready as possible to take that weight shift?
Going back to the three columns game, position and orientation affected my ability to see all three columns at once. With driving, positioning relative to other cars affected how much I was able to see around me.
Positioning and orientation affects body awareness also.
Positioning Of the Body Affects Awareness
An adjustment of the pelvis relative to the femur or vice versa can affect the feel of a hip whether or not it is bearing weight. And now when I do tai ji and am getting ready to move the pelvis and/or shift weight from one foot to another, I pay attention to both the weight bearing hip and the non weight-bearing hip. Both are important, and if I adjust them and position them correctly, I can make transitions without either hip suddenly popping.
Note that in this case the focus is on adjusting positioning to affect tension and thus "feel".
One thing to remember when working on improving body awareness and body control is that muscle tension and tension in general affects the position of the body but the position of the body affects muscle tension.
Limiting Movements to Prevent Hip Popping
One thing that has come from this methodology is that I deliberately limit some movements. I may not shift weight completely to one foot with the hip internally rotated. Or if I do then it will require some adjustment of pelvic tilt both in the front to back direction and the left to right direction (in this case, left to right means whether one hip is higher or lower than the other).
This requires awareness. I have to feel my pelvis and femur in order to know how to limit movement effectively.
Movement Qualities for Avoiding Hip Popping
In terms of movement quality, the most important thing when learning to avoid hip popping is to move slowly and smoothly. Only by moving slowly and slowly can you learn to feel when the hip is about to pop and either stop to readjust or adjust on the fly. And if you haven't got the necessary awareness then moving slowly and smoothly can help you learn it.
Effectively Learning to Feel and Control Your Body
In terms of feeling and controlling the parts of the body, the only way I know how to do it effectively is to focus on little bits at a time.
And that is basically what I teach in most of my classes, feeling and controlling the parts of the body so that you can get better at operating it.
Published: 2017 12 20
Updated: 2021 08 20