Tight Hip Flexors Need TLC!
- Do you spend most of your day in a seated position – in a chair, car or on a bicycle?
- Are you an athlete who spends a lot of time in a slightly flexed position? If you compete in field hockey, football, track and field, tennis, skiing, etc. then you probably do.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your hip flexors, the muscles responsible for hip flexion and for pulling the thigh and trunk toward each other, may be shortened and tight. When these muscles are locked-up, they do not function properly. If you do not “unglue” them, their functioning will worsen, and this will leave you vulnerable to discomfort, compromised movement, and injury. If you have fallen victim to shortened hip flexors, you need to spend time mobilizing and stretching the front of your hip and the muscles around this joint as soon as possible. This post will explain what the hip flexors are and will give you guidance on how to restore proper hip flexor function.
The hip flexors
The hip flexors consist of several muscles, but the major hip flexor muscle, called the iliopsoas, includes the:
- Psoas major
- Psoas minor
This muscle group attaches from the lumbar spine (vertebrae located in the lower back) and connects to the greater trochanter of the femur (thigh bone). Here is a visual of the hip flexors and where they connect:
Tight hip flexors lead to muscular imbalance and injury
As mentioned before, extended periods of sitting or standing in a flexed position put the hip flexors into a shortened position, which can leave them feeling pretty tight. When the hip flexors shorten they become overactive, and the glutes (derrière muscles) often become inhibited. If the glutes become inhibited, they no longer fire and/or contract properly. When the glutes cannot engage, they weaken and become less efficient at functioning. Extension and rotation of the hips, stabilization of the pelvis, and movements of the thigh away from and toward the body become compromised. In response to this dysfunction, a neural and mechanical inhibition occurs, which causes neighboring muscles to do the work for the glutes, a process called reciprocal inhibition. By restricting range of motion in various joints and by dramatically diminishing optimal gait and stride, this has a negative impact on the body’s kinesiology. The muscular dysfunction that occurs can lead to a reduction in performance, strength, power and flexibility. The ability to safely and effectively perform many daily activities like rising from the seated position, walking, lifting and running is impaired. Increased discomfort, injuries and postural issues also develop.
Injuries related to tight hip flexors
Some injuries associated with tight hip flexors include:
- Hip tendonitis and bursitis
- Illiotibial band syndrome (IT Band Syndrome)
- Piriformis syndrome
- Achilles degeneration
- Hamstring strain
- Low back pain
Prevent and correct the problem
To prevent tight hip flexors and correct dysfunction within the hip musculature, it is important to address all of the issues that may be contributing to the problem. Some items to look at include:
- Lifestyle factors
- Muscular tightness
- Muscular weakness
1. Lifestyle factors
- If you spend a lot of time sitting, find ways to sit less. If possible, get a standing desk and/or take frequent breaks. Each day, get away from your desk and chair whenever possible and incorporate movement and stretching. If a standing desk is not an option, make sure your desk and chair setup is ergonomic.
- To know if you are positioned correctly while at work, take a look at the diagram below. This picture shows how your body position/posture should be when standing and sitting at a desk. Note the head and arm positions relative to the computer screen(s).
2. Muscular weakness
- As mentioned before, weakness in your muscles leads to dysfunction. Correct this by incorporating a strengthening program into your weekly regimen.
- Address all of the muscles around the hip joint, including the glutes, internal and external hip rotators, lower back muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, etc.
- Do not ignore the core muscles and be sure to wake up those sleepy glutes. There are several exercises that you can do to activate and strengthen weak glutes. The good news is you can do many of these exercises at home. Some exercises include cook hip-lifts, bilateral and unilateral glute bridges, banded side-steps, banded clamshells, step-ups, and various forms of squatting.
- Perform a proper warm-up and cool-down. This includes dynamic movement and stretching exercises before and after your workouts.
3. Muscular tightness
- Along with addressing weak muscles, it is important to zero in on the muscles that are tight. Again, direct your attention to all of the muscles involved in the lower body complex including the hip flexors/psoas, glutes, IT band, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, etc.
- Add a mobilizing and stretching program to your regimen. Throw in some deep tissue/myofascial work such as foam rolling and massaging the glutes, IT band, quadriceps, psoas, and calves. Some tools to aid you with this process include:
- Monster bands
- Voodoo floss bands
- Foam rollers (I like TriggerPoint’s GRID foam roller)
- The Stick
- The Mobility Star (my newest favorite tool – I often travel with it)
- Lacrosse balls
- Golf balls
- Yoga Tune Up Set
- Theracane Massager
- Reference books such as Becoming A Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett and The Roll Model by Jill Miller
- Combine static (stationary) stretches with dynamic and active (moving) stretches. Here are a some stretches and dynamic mobility exercises that you can add to your program:
- The Active Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- Ground Transitions/Hip Flexor And Glute Stretch
- Foot-Hand Bear Crawl Exercise
- Tight IT Band and Hip Flexor Fix With Kelly Starrett
- Movement Skill: Balancing Tripod Transitions
- Movement Skill: Stepping Over and Under
- Deep-Squat, Rocking Pushup Ladder Workout
- Modified Windshield Wiper Rolls and Rocking
- Ground play
- Transition from the bear crawl position to a deep squat
Hip flexor mobility and strengthening exercises
9. Ground play
10. Transition from the bear crawl position to a deep squat
Remember, if you are inactive, spend a great deal of time sitting or standing in a flexed position, and/or are battling chronic or acute injuries to the hips, glutes, piriformis, hamstrings, quadriceps, IT band or achilles, you most likely have tight hip flexors/psoas muscles. You are probably experiencing muscular dysfunction, weakness and pain.
Luckily, with some work and perseverance, you can reverse the tightness and dysfunction you are experiencing. If you get to the root of your tight hip flexor issue, make necessary lifestyle changes, and commit to a resistance and stretching program, you will regain strength, power and flexibility and become more efficient at moving.
Efficient movement means fewer injuries and pain. Start making changes today by trying some of the above mentioned techniques.
Share your thoughts
What do you think?
- Do you struggle with hip flexor issues? If yes, what kind? Do you know what caused it?
- How do you get relief from hip flexor tightness and pain?
When she is not helping others to slay fat, build muscle, and live amazing lives, Jennifer can be found exploring the outdoors with her dogs, cooking, traveling and playing/coaching lacrosse. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.