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Helping a biology professor get her happy hips back

Nienke is a professor, mom and avid hiker and gardener in her 40s who came to me frustrated that her body is getting stiffer every year. She was afraid that she would very quickly have ‘old lady hips’ and be unable to maintain her active life.

Getting outside for hikes and gardening is her most important form of stress relief and key to her personal identity. Losing her freedom to do these activities was scary for her. Movements she used to do with ease were sources of trepidation. She no longer trusted her legs to catch her when she had to do more challenging movements like jumping from rock to rock crossing a river. Going up or down slopes was also unsteady for her. She feared eventually not being able to easily get up off the ground years before her time.

Nienke and I started working together online during the peak of the first lockdown in Canada. We started by looking at what was and wasn’t moving in her body.

I quickly noted that the reason she was feeling unstable on her legs is that her body wasn’t comfortable getting her mass solidly from one leg to the other or bearing weight on one leg. She spent all her time keeping her mass completely centred down the middle and never getting her mass to shift side to side. Also, her feet and legs were rotated out so much that she was unable to pick her arches up off the ground. She stood like a pyramid, feet wide apart at the base and body centred over the top. Although very stable, this way of standing and moving prevented her mass from being able to go from one leg to another. Both of these movements are key to being solid transferring from one leg to the other.

We started off by teaching her how to move her hips again. I got her body into a format where her hips were free to rotate in the sockets independent of her pelvis. I helped her rotate her hip sockets, flex her hips and get her weight stacked up solidly on one leg at a time. Next I taught her how to shift her mass side to side starting in the spine and then moving down into the hips, knees and feet.

In parallel to these movements I helped Nienke restore the arches in her feet. If your feet are one solid mass and the joints never move, you will have a hard time shifting your weight around. With the use of some cues and a few wedges of foam I encouraged movements to return to her feet, and by extension, the rest of her body.

After about 4 sessions Nienke was testing out her new movements in some hikes and longer excursions. She noticed that it was easier to hike downhill and she was more stable when jumping from stone to stone across a river. After a few more sessions of working on her leg and hip mechanics she was able to flex her hips much more easily while down on the ground.

Nienke no longer feared having ‘old lady hips’ in her 40s. Showing her body the movements it naturally had access to gave her back the freedom to maintain her active lifestyle without worrying about whether her body could keep up.