I know; I’m angry that I’m using a Shakira reference too. My musical taste is better than that. Unfortunately, The National are yet to write any songs about hips or hip dysplasia so I was at a loss.

Quite a lot of my (running) life is spent complaining about a dodgy hip. Every time I mention it, people helpfully jump in with all sorts of solutions. I hear tales of physiotherapists and cross-training and pilates and strengthening exercises. That’s wonderful and I love the support of the running community, but inwardly I sigh. My problems stem from something called hip dysplasia, which nobody has ever heard of and I have to repeatedly explain. It means the mechanics of my hip are slightly different and so whilst yes, all of those solutions help, it isn’t quite so straightforward.

Hip Dysplasia - Anatomy of the hip

Anatomy of a regular hip, (c) International Hip Dysplasia Institute

What is hip dysplasia?

In short, the hip is a “ball and socket” joint and is the largest of its type in the human body. The ball fits in the socket and allows free rotation of the joint. With hip dysplasia, either the joint is malformed and the wrong shape, or sits in the wrong position. Either causes increased force and creates abnormal wear and tear on the cartilage that lines the hip socket.

Nobody is certain about the exact causes of hip dysplasia. In my case, it’s thought that it was because I was a breech baby. It seems apt, considering I’ve spent the 27 years since my birth falling arse over tit on a reasonably frequent basis. Young bodies are malleable and during my birth, my hips got forced inwards, distorting the joint forever.

Hip dysplasia - feet turning in

I can actually still walk, pain free, while my feet are like this

This meant that as a child, I would turn my left foot inwards at a near 90-degree angle. I also couldn’t sit cross-legged in a school assembly for more than about 5 seconds without pain. To this day it’s a revolting party trick, that I can walk with my feet at 180 degrees. On a day to day basis, it’s no longer that severe, although I’m noticeably a little pigeon toed and it gets increasingly noticeable as I get more tired. Some friends have claimed not to notice it until I point it out. Sometimes people on the street notice it and stare.

It is the only thing I remember being bullied about at school. I blame Ant and Dec for having a segment on SM:TV Live entitled “Wonky Donkey”; I seethe when they win the National Television Awards each year.

How it affects my running

Note foot/leg turning in at bizarre angle

It’s the one characteristic I remain incredibly self-conscious about on a consistent basis. This has actually got worse since I started running because for the first time since home videos of my childhood, I’ve seen it captured on film. Almost every race has some level of photography and the bigger road races often provide video footage of you finishing. Seeing me sprint for a finish line is akin to a newborn lamb scampering along – limbs everywhere, all going in different directions. I have, on more than one occasion, burst into tears at seeing quite how ridiculous my legs appear when captured on camera. That is an overstated reaction and I won’t pretend otherwise; you have to remember I’m mad.

I can’t truly comment on how it affects my running because I’ve never experienced the alternative. It seems logical that a joint lacking optimal fluidity should have a negative impact on the mechanics of running. I’ve certainly compensated in other ways and that this has created some imbalances. I have general stability issues that stem from my hip and fall over a lot, repeatedly damaging the left ankle. Pain often kicks in at around 8-10 miles in my left hip to the point where even walking becomes agonising. I can’t sleep on my left side the night following a race. A lot of time is spent trying to hammer out what are “standard” problems and what is an unavoidable consequence of my hip and searching for workarounds. Really, I could probably do with a coach who understands dysplasia and can rebuild my technique to account for it.

The future

The twist in my hip means that my leg moves in a different way from most people. Realistically, I’ll spend the rest of my running days with unwavering devotion to strengthening exercises and physio trying to manage it because else I’m immediately in huge amounts of discomfort. There is no way of correcting the condition aside from surgery to attempt to reorient the joint. One or both hips will require replacement in the future, at a much younger age than is considered normal. Until that day, here’s another odd and grossly disturbing party trick of mine as a result of hip dysplasia: