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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

April 2013


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Gina recommends some exercises for tight hips and knees

Q: I’d planned to resume some light gardening and walking to the local shops with the improvement in the weather, but my hips and knees are very stiff and stop my from being more active. What advice or exercises would you suggest to help me to get more active again? 

It’s common to be more sedentary during the winter months and to feel inflexible as we start to resume outdoor activities. Sitting for long periods, watching television or using the computer as well as long car journeys all contribute to tension around the hips and knees.

Stiffness around the hips usually stems from tension in the muscles in the low back, buttocks and at the front of the hip joint which work to keep the hips in the flexed position while sitting and help maintain support for the lumbar area. Poor sitting posture exacerbates this problem, so it is worthwhile supporting the low back area with a cushion or small pillow, maintaining the lumbar curve. It is also beneficial to sit with the knee and hip joints at 90 degrees angles to minimise any strain and to keep the body completely upright rather than leaning slightly forwards or backwards in a chair.

Conditions such as Degenerative Disc Disease, Arthritis and Spinal Stenosis contribute to feeling stiff in the leg muscles and joints. These conditions are characterised by chronic low grade inflammation, which may irritate the nerves which stem from the low back region to supply the leg muscles and joints. Bony changes which often occur with degenerative conditions may cause direct compression or the lumbar nerves and refer pain from the low back into the legs. In such cases, regular application of anti-inflammatory gels in the low back region may help to relieve stiffness in the legs. But, if you experience pain, numbness or tingling in the buttocks or legs, or stiffness which is not resolved with gentle stretches, you should consult your GP. Also, a change in your bowel or bladder habit in conjuction with any of the aforementioned symptoms, may be indicative of a more serious condition and urgent medical diagnosis is required.

Stretches for the buttock muscles help to relieve muscle tension and stiffness in the hips and legs as they attach to the upper outer thigh bone.

Buttock Stretch
Lying down, cross your left ankle over the right thigh and pull the left leg towards your chest to feel the stretch in the left buttock and outer hip and thigh area. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the stretch to the right hip and thigh.

Stretching the front of the thigh, affects the superficial hip flexor muscles (Rectus Femoris), relieving tension both in the hips and knees as this muscle starts at the hip joint and descends the thighbone to attach just below the knee cap.  Stretches for the deep hip flexor muscle (Iliopsoas), which attaches from the low back region to the inner thigh bone/groin region is equally important for better mobility in the hips and legs.

Hip Buttock Stretch

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand with your right side facing a wall and your right hand pressed against it for support.
Bend back the left knees, gently holding your ankle towards the buttock. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the stretch to the right hip.

When we sit for long periods, the muscles at the back of the thigh (Hamstrings) and the calf muscles become thighs as they attach behind the knee joint, via tendons. If we fail to stretch the knees fully on a regular basis, the ligaments which lie beneath the tendons become chronically contracted and feel sore when we start to become more active again.  If they fail to release, the knee may be held in a flexed position when walking and contribute to the development of inflammation under the knee cap or in the low back region. The following stretch will help to stretch the back of the knee regularly.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

Theraband or Scarf Stretch
Lying down, hook a scarf or band around the right foot and straighten the leg to feel a stretch at the back of the thigh and calf. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. For additional relief, flex and point the foot 20-30 times. Repeat the stretch to the left leg.


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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