Since someone has to do the job… (Side note: That’s one of the coolest things about our body. There is always a backup system. Always another set of muscles ready to take over. Even if they are not the most effective and it leads to pain and tightness.) So, who takes over for spinal stability when the abdominals aren’t fully working? The psoas of course.
Flexors are flexible muscle tissues that help a person stretch and move. The muscles that help you lift your knee toward your body and bend at the waist are known as the hip flexors. These muscles are located around the upper and inner things and pelvic region. Keeping the hip flexors strong is particularly important for active people and athletes.
Often you’ll perform static stretches seated or lying down, and focus on breathing slowly and deeply to facilitate relaxation — sometimes for several minutes at a time. Static stretches can be very effective at loosening you up, but they also inhibit performance in the stretched muscles for a short time afterward. So they’re best reserved for after a workout, or as an anytime stress reliever — just not right before a workout involving the muscles you’re stretching.
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While sciatica is healing, try to remain active. Motion can actually help reduce inflammation and pain. A physical therapist can show you how to gently stretch the hamstring and lower back. Practicing tai chi or yoga can help stabilize the affected area and strengthen your core. Depending on your medical condition, certain exercises may not be recommended. Your doctor may also recommend taking short walks.
Of course, you know what it feels like to have a tight muscle. But tight hips aren't just uncomfortable—they can lead to all sorts of other aches and pains, especially in the lower back. "People focus on the hips and say their hips are tight, but we don't always think about the fact that the lower back connects to our legs at the hip," Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate, "and this can be a setup for lower-back injury," Teo Mendez, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NY Orthopedics who focuses on operative and non-operative management of sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis, tells SELF.
How to: Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you (a). Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot (b). Put your hands behind your body, fingertips facing away from your body and begin to press your hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Keep your back tall and chest open (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the other side.
The hip is a common site of osteoarthritis. To help protect the hip joint from "wear and tear," it is important to strengthen the muscles that support it. Your hip also controls the position of your knee, and strengthening your hips may be one component of your rehab program for knee pain. Your physical therapist may also prescribe hip exercises after total hip replacement if you have a hip labrum tear or as part of your hip exercise program for hip pain.
Preventing hip flexor injury focuses on good flexibility, as well as making sure you warm up before you go full speed. Warm muscles are much less likely to be injured. So take the time to warm up and start slowly before you go all out. A good flexibility program will also help to reduce the tension on the muscles, and reduce your likelihood for injury.
Meanwhile, many non-dangerous problems can cause amazingly severe back pain. A muscle cramp is a good analogy — just think about how painful a Charley horse is! Regardless of what’s actually going on in there, muscle pain is probably the main thing that back pain patients are feeling. The phenomenon of trigger points — tiny muscle cramps, basically11 — could be the entire problem, or a complication that’s more painful and persistent than the original problem. It’s hard to overstate how painful trigger points can be, but they are not dangerous to anything but your comfort.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.