Whenever you end up sitting too long, whether it’s from a long flight or a long meeting, chances are that when you finally stand up, you need a good stretch to ease some of the tension. This happens when your hip flexor muscles get too tight.
What are your hip flexor muscles?
The main muscles in your hip flexors include the iliopsoas (the psoas and the iliacus), the tensor fasciae latae, the rectus femoris, and the sartorius. While there are other muscles around them, these ones are the primary muscles that control your hips.
What causes you to have tight hip flexors?
When you spend too long sitting, your muscles relax and deactivate. While relaxed muscles sound good, when they are relaxed for too long, they end up shrinking. When you stand up, these now-shorter muscles have to stretch to accommodate the movement and it can end up being very painful.
Your hips are designed to be balanced, and when one is out of alignment, it can create hip pain. This can be caused by sleeping on one side for too long, over even standing on an uneven surface.
Performing improper lower body exercises
When you do a squat, your back should remain straight and your knees bent and lined up over your feet. Squats are a great form of pelvic tilt exercise that can also help to stretch out your hips. However, by rounding your upper body, you put excess pressure on your low back, potentially causing damage. Taking the time to learn how to properly squat is the best way to prevent injury.
Common running injuries
There are several types of hip injuries you can get from running. Many of these are repetition injuries, so always be cognizant of how your body feels and rest accordingly.
Muscle sprains and strains, hip and IT band syndrome can happen simply from overuse. The best ways to treat these injuries are rest, icing the afflicted area, and taking anti-inflammatory drugs if needed.
Muscle tendon bursitis happens when the protective, fluid-filled sacs that cushion your bones and muscles become swollen and inflamed. These injuries also need rest, ice, and medication, although these also often require help from a physical therapist.
Labral cartilage tears occur from repetitive motion, and they can cause stiffness and a lack of mobility. You may feel pain and you might notice locking or clicking sounds when you move your hips. These tears will need medical attention to regain mobility and reduce pain.
How to loosen tight hip flexor muscles
Stand up regularly
Oftentimes, tight hips step from sitting too much. The easiest remedy is to be cognizant of getting up more often. Stand up from your desk or the couch at least once an hour (but ideally more). Tie the action of standing up to having a sip of water, and you’ll find that your hip joints aren’t as sore, plus you’ll stay hydrated!
Find a type of exercise that you genuinely enjoy. You can go for long walks at sunset or play frisbee in the afternoon. If you want to try something new, check out tai chi or go downhill skiing. Human bodies were designed to be active and any kind of movement can help to counteract our sedentary lifestyle.
Stretch it out
One of the best ways to lengthen a muscle and increase the range of motion is by stretching. WeStretch offers a custom pain relief stretching routine specifically designed for hips as well as one for your lower back.
If your pain is extending beyond your hips and into your legs and back, you might want to consider learning how to do the splits. The point isn’t to become an acrobat, but rather to stretch out all the muscles in your lower core. Flexibility isn’t just for the elite.
Invest in a good foam roller
A foam roller can be one of the best tools to release excess tension in your body. Try spending a few minutes using one to carefully roll over your hips or your spine. If you don’t have a roller, or the pain is more localized, try using a tennis ball to roll over your tight spots.
Seek physical therapy
While you can often address a lot of your stiff muscles at home, sometimes you need expert help. A chiropractor can help ensure that your body is in alignment and a massage therapist can work out muscle knots. If your hip pain is severe, there may be an underlying cause that your doctor can help you to figure out.
Best hip flexor exercises
Your hips have several interconnected muscles that run up through your back and down your legs, so they may need a variety of different stretches to work on as many muscles as possible.
Lifting your leg
This may sound simple, but try balancing on your left leg while you move the right one around- and it doesn’t have to be high. Stick your right leg out to the front, to the side, and behind you. You should feel your muscles moving and lengthening while doing these leg exercises. Stretching doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.
The lunge position has the dual bonus of strengthening your core muscles while stretching out your hips. Try the lunge variations of straightening your back leg or twisting to the side for a greater stretch.
Sit on the floor, with your back straight and the balls of your feet pressed together. Bring your feet closer to you until you feel the stretch. If you want a deeper movement, press on your knees with your elbows in a nice static stretch. Avoid bouncing in this stretch- otherwise known as ballistic stretching – since that can actually cause more damage if done incorrectly.
An easy way to get into this pose is to start on your hands and knees. To stretch out your left hip, cross your left leg underneath your body so your ankle is below your right hip. Lower yourself to the ground and stick your right leg straight out behind you. Repeat on the other side.
Lie on your back, crossing your ankle over your opposite knee, and pull your leg to your chest
This is a great hip-opener stretch to do while lying back and reading a book or watching a show. This is a similar stretch to the pigeon pose, but it is easier to control the intensity of the movement.
Rotate your ankle
Since your muscles are connected, this is a great way to stretch your hip and leg muscles. For the simplest version, stand tall and rotate both feet to point outward, heels together. Switch directions and bring your toes together and your heels outward. If you want to work on your ankle flexibility as well, try flexing and pointing your toes while you do this, or rotating your pinkie toe to the floor.
Take the time to regularly stretch your hip flexor muscles to keep your mobility high and your lower body pain-free!
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This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns.
Written by Kayla Willsey
Updated June 7, 2021