You may feel a little restricted and tight around your hips but where is this sensation coming from? Let’s explore some common symptoms of tight hip flexors and how they can be treated or maintained to encourage range and ease of movement and body function.
How do I know if I have tight hip flexors?
Pain and discomfort from tight hips is normally felt in the upper groin area. You may also experience lower back pain. Tight hips often lead to issues in the low back, knees, and sacroiliac joints ( links your pelvis and lower spine. They’re made up of the sacrum — the bony structure above your tailbone and below your lower vertebrae — and the top part (ilium) of your pelvis).
An easy way to assess flexibility of the hip flexor muscles is called the Thomas test:
- Lie on your back on the floor, a bench, or another stable, flat surface.
- Bring both knees to your chest.
- Hold your right knee against your chest.
- Straighten your left leg.
- Lower your left leg as far as possible.
- Repeat with the other leg
Hip flexors are generally considered tight if either leg cannot completely lower to the surface you are lying on.
What can cause tight hips?
There are a number of things that can contribute to tight hips and range from lifestyle habits to conditions of birth. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to tight hip flexors and hip flexor pain. That’s because excessive sitting causes the muscles to relax and deactivate. Over time they become progressively weaker and shorter, sometimes causing a painful condition called adaptive shortening.
Other factors that may lead to tight hips are:
- standing after long periods of sitting
- a tipped/tilted pelvis, which creates a structural imbalance
- postural habits like leaning over into one hip or leaning forward into both hips on the forefoot when standing
- sleeping all night on the same side of the body
- having one leg longer than the other
Tight hips may also flare up when performing lower body exercises, like squats , lunges and deadlifts. This can be managed with appropriate warm-up, strengthening and mobility , stretching and cool-down exercises.
What can I do to eliminate or manage tight hips?
It may not be possible to prevent tight hips, but you can reduce your risk for hip pain:
- Get up and move around every hour or so if you sit at a desk for long periods of time.
- Warm up properly before any workout.
- Stretch at the end of every workout (hip flexor stretches below)
Stretching and massage can also reduce your risk for muscle tightness and pain.
Massage helps relieve tight hips by:
- stretching tissues that cannot be reached by foam rollers
- breaking down scar tissue
- increasing blood flow to tissues
- releasing endorphins to reduce pain
- relaxing the muscle through heat generation and circulation
Foam roller stretches and hip flexor stretches should help to loosen the tight hip muscles. Treatment from a qualified sports and remedial massage therapist can also provide relief.
Here are 3 hip flexor stretches that can help:
This popular yoga pose is an advanced move. Only execute it if you feel comfortable doing so. Feel free to modify the pose.
- Begin in a plank position.
- Lift your left foot off the floor and slide it forward so that your knee is on the ground next to your left hand, and your foot is near your right hand. Exactly where your knee and toes fall will depend on your flexibility.
- Slide your right leg back as far as you can while keeping your hips square and lower yourself to the floor and onto your elbows, bringing your upper body down as far as possible.
- Hold the stretch without letting your chest fall. Once you feel like you’ve gotten a good stretch, switch sides.
Foam roller hip flexor stretch
You can use a foam roller to loosen up tight hips.
- Lie face down, with your foam roller beneath and slightly below your right hip.
- Place your left leg to the side with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Rest your forearms on the ground in front of you to take some of your body weight off of your hip. This will make the stretch less painful.
- Stretch your right leg straight out behind you, with your toes pointed backward and the front of your foot flat against the ground
- Slowly move backward and forward over the foam roller.
- For an extra stretch, add some side-to-side movement as you roll.
- Continue for up to 30 seconds.
- Then you can move into the elevated hips static hold stretch (pictured next slide)
- From a standing position, look straight ahead and take a generous step forward with your right foot.
- Bend your extended knee and transfer your weight onto that front right leg. Continue to lower yourself slowly into the lunge until your left knee hovers just above, or softly kisses, the ground. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle.
- Step back into a standing position. Repeat the pose with your left leg.
See your doctor if you have persistent pain in any part of your body. They can determine if your pain is the result of an underlying medical cause.