Monday, 26 November 2012

Importance of the hip joint in rock climbing

So, this post started as a request by my old man, who is an "older" climber!

However, he didn't elaborate on what he wanted me to discuss with regards to the hips, so I'm going to explain some anatomy, the function, the relevance of the hips to climbers, potential pathologies you may come across, treatment/preventative measures that can be taken, and any other relevant information I encounter along the way!


The hip joint is a basic ball and socket joint that has a large range of movement. It is also a very stable joint due to the majority of the head of femur being encapsulated by the acetabulum of the pelvis

I won't bore you with naming them individually, but the primary role of the muscles of the hip are to flex and extend the hip, as well as adduct and abduct it. A combination of these movements bring about rotational movements about the joint.


The main function of the hip is to provide a strong, weight bearing joint in which provides enough movement to walk, stand, and other functional movements.

Relevance to climbers

The relevance of the hips to rock climbers is bigger than you might think. 
A lot of climbers focus on the upper limb - getting stronger shoulders or fingers, and some may contemplate the feet, for example their shoes and how tight they are, however, not many think about anything else in the lower limb region. 
This is because much of the strength built up in the legs is from weight bearing exercises such as....walking, sit to stand, climbing stairs etc etc, but aren't nessecarily transferable strengths to climbing.

Copyright Seve Graepel

The hips are key in climbing, for example, being able to actively extend the hips to bring your body closer to the wall, so your centre of gravity is in line with your feet. This is in order to take some of the weight off the arms. 
Also, the range of movement about the hip is key, and can be a hinderance in many an older climber, as the infamous rock over move requires a high step with the hip joint flexed excessively than would be done in normal, everyday activities.
This high step then has the weight of the climber transferred across to it, then the climber has to stand on the rocked-over leg with all the weight of the climber being supported on that leg (with or without some holds for the arms). 
This means the hip has been flexed to it's end range, and then has to extend from this end-range position.

Copyright BMC

This can be quite a difficult move, and in reality, the best exercises for this is the movement itself: to practice rock-overs; but starting from a lesser degree of flexion and gradually building it up. 
Single leg squats and other such weight bearing exercises will build up muscles around the hip and knee that aid this movement, but does not cover the same range of movement a rock-over requires.


So, pathologies of the hip. There are no real hip pathologies that are common, or more likely in climbers, unlike other joints such as fingers. Therefore, hip problems are usually similar issues found with Joe non-climber Bloggs out there. 
So, generally, pain around your hip could be caused by a tightness in the hip stabilizers, such as the piriformis. A deep rub with an elbow in the buttocks region, at the midpoint between the head of femur and PSIS (posterior superior iliac spine) will often resolve the pain, minus the pain you will experience from the deep rub initially!

A lot of people I know rave about yoga as a great adjunct to most therapies, and for the hip it seems to be in a league of it's own. This is a good preventative measure for injuries.
Other hip pain could be referred from elsewhere, such as the lumbar spine, and needs checking out further by an expert.
Finally, issues related to older climbers and the hips would be that of osteoarthritis of the joint.
 So, osteoarthritis is a disease that normally occurs for the over 50's and is a degenerative joint disease that causes break down of the cartiledge of joints and produces bony spurs, both of which cause pain upon movement of the joint, along with swelling and inflammation.
There is no "cure", as it were, for osteoarthritis, but can be managed with exercise and medication, however, some do require surgical intervention (which will be saved for a later post)

Treatment and Preventative Measures

I've already discussed treatment and preventative measures along the way, but here I will summarise them:
  • Build up hip strength for exercises such as rockovers by gradually building up the exercise from a lower level and working up
  • Hip issues can come from other areas such as the spine - work on your core to prevent this
  • Explore other options to maintaining your strength and flexibility such as yoga
  • Tight piriformis and other hip stabilizers can be solved via stretches or soft tissue release (deep rub!)
  • Exercise and medication can aid reduce the pain caused by osteoarthritis