The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2018, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.
The hips are the cornerstone of every runner’s body. Comprising an array of muscle groups—from the all-powerful glutes to the smaller hip flexors and adductors—your hips propel every stride, stabilize the thighs, and (quite literally) keep the knee on the right track, physical therapist John Sauer, D.P.T., O.C.S., an endurance program manager with Athletico Physical Therapy, tells SELF.
Sherwin is a Medical Research Scientist and Author of the Low Back Pain Program and eBook. With over 20 years of Research experience from The Toronto General Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, he provides sensible, effective, advice and solutions for lower back pain. His eBook has helped thousands of sufferers overcome chronic back pain through safe, targeted exercise and stretching techniques.
“For millions suffering from lower back pain (LBP), most do not realize that tight hip flexors are also a source of what’s hurting us,” said Sherwin Nicholson, a medical research scientist with SN Health Resources. “If you neglect [your hip flexors and hamstrings], not only will they tighten up, but your back can suffer and anything that you do will become a chore instead of an activity.”
Back pain can suck the joy out of your days for week, months, even years. It can definitely be “serious” even when it’s not dangerous. I have worked with many truly miserable chronic low back pain patients, and of course the huge economic costs of back pain are cited practically anywhere the subject comes up. But your typical case of chronic low back pain, as nasty as it can be, has never killed anyone.
There is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the “tiny cramp” theory could be wrong. The tiny cramp theory is formally known as the “expanded integrated hypothesis,” and it has been prominently criticized by Quintner et al (and not many others). However, it’s the mostly widely accepted explanation for now. BACK TO TEXT
Their research differs from past studies of chronic low back pain, which tended to focus on patients who already had a well-established track record of long-term problems (in other words, the people who had already drawn the short straw before they were selected for study, and are likely to carry right on feeling rotten). Instead they studied new cases of chronic low back pain, and found that “more than one third” recovered within nine more months. This evidence is a great foundation for more substantive and lasting reassurance for low back pain patients.
3. Hug it out. Start the supine hip flexor stretch the same as the glute bridge, but keep the right leg relaxed on the floor. Pull shoulder blades down and back to lift hips. Grab the back thigh of the left leg and pull the knee toward the chest. Keep the right leg straight and push its heel into the floor (to feel it in the butt). Hold for 30-45 seconds and switch legs.
MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.
Greater trochanteric pain syndrome describes pain that is felt along the outer hip area. Causes include sports injury, muscle tears, and injury due to motor vehicle accidents. The pain is caused by a combination of inflammation in two distinct areas: the bursa of the hip and pain in the buttock (gluteal muscles). Pain may also be caused by tendinitis of the hip abductor muscles. Symptoms of greater trochanteric pain syndrome include hip pain at night lying on side, dislocated hip symptoms, and hip muscle weakness. Hip pain relief can be sought through anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and stretches for hip pain.
Relaxing in a full squat works for releasing the psoas if you’re comfortable. If you’re desperately trying not to fall over backwards, then you’re probably tightening your hip flexors to hold yourself up. This defeats the entire purpose of a resting squat. Grab something like a pillow or a couple books to throw under your heels and see if you can sink down and “rest” into a resting squat. Hold that for a little bit taking some really deep breaths directing the air and pressure of your breath into your back. Then stand up and move around. I bet your hip flexors will feel looser than before the resting squat.
• Scoliosis. Instead of running straight up the center of the back, a spine with scoliosis twists to one side. Scoliosis can be classified as true (meaning it has to do with abnormal development of the spine) or functional (meaning its cause is not directly related to the spine). Functional scoliosis may occur when a discrepancy in leg length causes the pelvis to tilt to one side to compensate. The cause of true scoliosis is largely unknown, although doctors suspect that it may be the result of imbalanced growth in childhood.
The gluteus medius is a muscle that sits on the outside of the hip area. This muscle is used for standing upright and walking. When injured, these muscles will cause a limp. If these muscles are torn, it can cause severe pain when walking, sitting, or sleeping. Treatment usually involves rest, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery to repair the torn muscle, if no other treatments bring relief from pain.
How to do it: Begin with a 20- to 30-inch box or bench right behind you. Straighten one leg and lift your foot in front of you, bend your standing leg, and push your hips back as far as possible as if you’re squatting on two legs, but just doing it on one. Continue until your butt hits the bench, pause, then squeeze your glutes and drive through your planted heel to stand up. Do not relax and release the tension in your muscles as you sit. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time. (Once you master lowering to touch your glutes to the bench, lower the bench or try lowering to the floor.)

3. Hug it out. Start the supine hip flexor stretch the same as the glute bridge, but keep the right leg relaxed on the floor. Pull shoulder blades down and back to lift hips. Grab the back thigh of the left leg and pull the knee toward the chest. Keep the right leg straight and push its heel into the floor (to feel it in the butt). Hold for 30-45 seconds and switch legs.


Apply the above concept to your hips. When you sit, your hips are in a "flexed" position. Therefore, the muscles that flex your hips are in a shortened state. You probably spend at least a third of your day sitting down. Think about how much time those hip flexor muscles stay shortened. A lot. Over time, they become tighter and tighter until you look like the old man in the picture. So unless you want to look like that, perform the stretches shown below.

Or anything else. Pain is a poor indicator, period! The human nervous system is really terrible about this: it routinely produces false alarms, and alarms that are much too loud. See Pain is Weird: Pain science reveals a volatile, misleading sensation that is often more than just a symptom, and sometimes worse than whatever started it. BACK TO TEXT


So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.
The hip flexors are the group of muscles that allow you to lift your knees toward your chest and bend forward from the hips.  What is collectively referred to as the hip flexors is actually a group of muscles that includes the iliopsoas, the thigh muscles (rectus femoris, Sartorius and tensor fasciae latae), and the inner thigh muscles (adductor longus and brevis, pectineus and gracilis).
To complete this stretch, take a knee in front of a wall so that the toes of the leg you have raised are pressing against the wall. Place that same hand against the wall. Reach behind you with your other hand and grab your leg that’s sitting on the floor by the ankle, and bend it back towards your body. Hold this position and lunge forward towards the wall to complete the stretch. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side of your body.
Eleven updates have been logged for this article since publication (2009). All PainScience.com updates are logged to show a long term commitment to quality, accuracy, and currency. more When’s the last time you read a blog post and found a list of many changes made to that page since publication? Like good footnotes, this sets PainScience.com apart from other health websites and blogs. Although footnotes are more useful, the update logs are important. They are “fine print,” but more meaningful than most of the comments that most Internet pages waste pixels on.

Why does it tighten down so much when overworking as a spinal stabilizer? Remember that length tension relationship we talked about? Well, if the psoas is tight, it can compress the spine easier, thus providing spinal stability. Plus, it has to work a lot to stabilize the spine. When you don’t have correct functioning of the diaphragm and abdominals, the psoas holds a great deal of tension to do the job. This tightness or tension makes it a very ineffective hip flexor.


A herniated disc in the back cancause sciatic like symptoms of pain that radiates from the lower back and down into the legs and calves. It can also cause pain in the butt and tail of the spine and can cause pain running down the legs and numbness in one leg. Typical symptoms include feelings of muscle weakness in the legs, sciatic nerve pain, pain in the back leg muscles, tingling in the nerves of the leg, and pain behind the knees. Treatments include ice and heat therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, exercise, physical therapy, steroids to decrease inflammation, and sometimes surgery.
With a roster of muscles ranging from the powerful glutes to the small and agile abductors, the hips control practically all your movements. Almost every endurance athlete overworks some hip muscles while underworking others, causing severe imbalances: Runners are infamous for having weak hip adductors—the muscles on the side of the hip that help you step laterally—while cyclists tend to have massive quads and tiny glutes.
How to do it: Rest the barbell across the upper traps on the back of your shoulders, as if it’s sitting on the collar of your shirt. Begin with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing about 15 degrees out, then widen your stance as needed so you’re comfortable. Make sure your knees are pushed out and your glutes stabilize your position. When you’re ready, push your glutes back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Aim for dipping your butt below your knees, but go down as far as you can without bending forward or losing balance. When you get the bottom of your squat, squeeze your glutes and drive up and through your heels back to start position.

Enthoven WT, Geuze J, Scheele J, et al. Prevalence and "Red Flags" Regarding Specified Causes of Back Pain in Older Adults Presenting in General Practice. Phys Ther. 2016 Mar;96(3):305–12. PubMed #26183589. How many cases of back pain in older adults have a serious underlying cause? Only about 6% … but 5% of those are fractures (which are serious, but they aren’t cancer either). The 1% is divided amongst all other serious causes. In this study of 669 patients, a vertebral fracture was found in 33 of them, and the chances of this diagnosis was higher in older patients with more intense pain in the upper back, and (duh) trauma. BACK TO TEXT


THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
2016 — More editing, more! Added some better information about pain being a poor indicator, and the role of myofascial trigger points. This article has become extremely busy in the last couple months — about 4,000 readers per day, as described here — so I am really polishing it and making sure that it’s the best possible answer to people’s fears about back pain.
A recent study from Florida Atlantic University found that doing 45 minutes of chair yoga twice per week reduced pain and improved overall quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis. Chair yoga is practiced sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support, so it’s a great option for beginners or anyone dealing with an injury or balance problems.
Wrapping a Thera-Band around your ankles before you perform Lateral Walks or Shuffles increases resistance, strengthening your hip abductors and gluteus medius. When you perform this exercise, you will quickly find out if you have weak hips. This is most beneficial for basketball players, who are required to be in a crouched defensive stance and shuffle when playing defense.
MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.

Deanna is an ACE® certified personal trainer, Balanced Body® Pilates instructor, and NASM® Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is passionate about inspiring others to lead a healthier lifestyle through fun workouts and healthy food. When she’s not creating new workouts and recipes for her blog The Live Fit Girls she enjoys running with her two dogs and traveling.


In addition to these exercises, there are simple things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of hip flexor pain.  If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up and move around every hour or so.  Warm up properly before any physical activity, and stretch regularly at the end of each workout.  Your hips will thank you for it! 
The hip is a very stable ball and socket type joint with an inherently large range of motion. The hip contains some of the largest muscle in the body as well as some of the smallest. Most people lack mobility due to a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Periods of prolonged sitting results in tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings. Tightness in the muscles and ligaments can created joint forces that result in arthritis, postural problems, bursitis, and mechanical back pain.
Apply the above concept to your hips. When you sit, your hips are in a "flexed" position. Therefore, the muscles that flex your hips are in a shortened state. You probably spend at least a third of your day sitting down. Think about how much time those hip flexor muscles stay shortened. A lot. Over time, they become tighter and tighter until you look like the old man in the picture. So unless you want to look like that, perform the stretches shown below.

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.
×