Hip abduction is the movement of the leg away from the midline of the body. We use this action every day when we step to the side, get out of bed, and get out of the car.
The hip abductors are important and often forgotten muscles that contribute to our ability to stand, walk, and rotate our leg with ease.
Not only can hip abduction exercises help you get a tight and toned backside, but they can also help to prevent and treat pain in the hips and knees. Hip abduction exercises are great for men and women of all ages, especially for athletes, women, and elderly people.
The hip abductor muscles include the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lata (TFL).
They not only move the leg away from the midline but they also help rotate the leg at the hip joint. The hip abductors are necessary for stabilization during walking, and one-legged movement. Weakness in these muscles can cause pain and poor movement patterns.
Reduce knee valgus
Knee valgus refers to when the knees cave inward giving a “knock-knee” appearance. This is most commonly seen in young women and older adults or in those with improper form during exercise or muscle imbalances.
A 2015 study suggests that dynamic knee valgus and internal rotation are risk factors for patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. The study finds that although hip abduction exercises didn’t produce a significant change in knee angle, they did see increases in hip abductor strength, which can have clinical benefits on knee pain.
Another article found that “women demonstrated lower hip abductor strength and increased knee valgus when landing from a jump,” indicating that women may be at a higher risk of knee injury than men. That means that hip abductor strength may be more important for women when it comes to knee health and stability.
Better muscle activation and performance
The hip abductors are closely related to the core muscles and are essential for balance and athletic performance. Due to extended time spent sitting during the day, many people develop weak gluteus muscles.
Prolonged inactivity can lead to the body essentially “turning off” these muscles, making them harder to recruit during exercise. This can result in improper use of other muscles to compensate leading to pain, poor performance, and difficulty with certain movements.
Using techniques to help increase activation of the gluteus medius during squats, like the use of a resistance band around the knees, can increase overall performance and give the buttocks a rounder and more defined appearance.
Weakness in the hip abductors, particularly the gluteus medius, is thought to lead to patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. These overuse injuries may worsen due to weakness in the hip abductors, particularly the gluteus medius.
PFPS can cause mild to severe pain behind the kneecap. Pain occurs while sitting for extended periods of time or while going down a flight of stairs. Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication, rest, and exercises to strengthen the quadriceps, hip abductors, and hip rotators, as well as stretching of the muscles surrounding the hip and knee.
IT band syndrome can cause mild to severe pain in the hip and knee. Pain is often felt just above the knee joint or along the outside of the hip and leg. The IT band is a thick band of tissue that crosses both the hip and knee area and helps stabilize the body during movements.
Inflammation of this tissue can be due to poor body mechanics, increase in hip-knee angle or overuse. Treatment includes rest, ice, elevation and anti-inflammatory medications. Gentle stretching and fascial release can also be beneficial.
A study published in Physiotherapy Canada showed positive results with a six-week exercise program that included strengthening the hip abductors. Physical function was significantly related to hip abductor strength at two, four, and six weeks.
Additionally, authors of a 2011 article looked at the effectiveness of a hip abductor strengthening program among 25 participants, 15 of whom had PFPS. They found that after three weeks, participants with PFPS saw an increase in strength and a decrease in pain.
Although they didn’t find changes in hip angle, these results support the use of hip abduction exercises for therapeutic reasons.
Hip abduction exercises have many benefits. Often used in both the therapy settings and among bodybuilders and weightlifters, they help strengthen important muscles needed for stabilization and injury prevention. There are many exercises you can do to improve hip abductor strength, including lying side leg lifts, clamshells, and banded side steps or squats.