4. Just swing it. For the front-to-back hip swing stretch, lie on the left side with hips stacked, propped up on the left elbow. Bend the left leg to a 90-degree angle and raise the right leg to hip level with toes pointed. Keep abs tight and swing the right leg all the way in front, then swing it all the way to the back, squeezing the booty along the way. Switch sides.
The piriformis muscle connects the top of the femur to the spine, and it’s the main one that supports the outward movement of the hip, upper leg, and foot. The sciatic nerve can sometimes pass through this muscle and thus cause sciatica symptoms, otherwise known as piriformis syndrome, characterized by pain in the lower back and hips, poor movement, and balance. Therefore, the main cause of sciatica is the swelling or constriction of the piriformis muscle, but it can also be a result of some other factors as well.
Start in a runner’s lunge, right leg forward with knee over ankle and left knee on ground with top of your foot flat on the mat. Slowly lift torso and rest hands lightly on right thigh. Lean hips forward slightly, keeping right knee behind toes, and feel the stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold here, or for a deeper stretch, raise arms overhead, biceps by ears. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
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.
To ease the pain and lower your odds of an injury, don’t try to do too much at once. “Start with just 10 minutes,” says Arina Garg, MD, a rheumatology fellow at The Center for Excellence for Arthritis and Rheumatology at the Louisiana University Health Sciences Center. “Every few days, increase that time by 5 to 10 minutes.” Your goal is to work up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week.
If you’re lucky, you won’t notice your hips are tight until you’re trying to do the Half Pigeon pose in your yoga class. But if you’re not so fortunate, your tight hips are making themselves known every time you so much as walk to the bathroom or sit on the couch—expressing themselves in the form of lower back pain and muscle stiffness. Tight hips can even shorten your stride, slowing your 5K goal time!
Start in a runner’s lunge with right leg forward, right knee over right ankle and back leg straight. Walk right foot over toward left hand, then drop right shin and thigh to the floor, making sure to keep right knee in line with right hip. Allow left leg to rest on the floor with top of left foot facing down. Take a moment to square your hips to the front of the room. Hold here, or hinge at hips and lower torso toward floor, allowing head to rest on forearms. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side. You want to feel a moderate stretch in the outside of the right thigh, but if this pose hurts your knees or feels too uncomfortable, stick with Thread the Needle.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift one foot a couple of inches off the floor. Then put it down and lift the other foot a couple of inches, all while remembering to breathe. “It’s like taking alternate steps,” Pariser says. Work up to doing 30 steps at a time.
To complete this stretch, get into the same kneeling position from the half kneeling hip flexor stretch. Whichever leg you have raised, place that hand on your hip. (So, if you’re doing this exercise with your right leg, place your right hand on your right hip, and vice versa.) Next, tighten your glute muscles, and reach around your body with your free hand to grab that foot. Pull that foot upwards towards your upper body
How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
I’m just going to briefly touch on this because this will look different for each person. But know that if your hip flexors are or always feel tight, there is a reason. Muscles don’t get tight with no cause, and it’s usually because they are compensating for a weakness elsewhere or are constantly in a shortened position (as is the case with sitting).
Ligaments connecting your back to your pelvis: Straining the ligaments around your buttocks and pelvis may result in this type of pain. This area can also be referred to as the sacro-iliac joint. Due to this area linking your lower back and hip you may feel your pain from your lower back through to your hip. Treatment in this presentation should be primarily to the ligament that is strained and addressing posture as well as back stretching exercises when indicated.
Stack the right leg on top of the left, lining up the right ankle to the left knee and the right knee to the left ankle. If you find this position too difficult, you can use blocks as support to lighten the pose. The Fire Log Pose is a deep hip stretch and good stretch for the glutes as well. It’s a pose that also stretches and strengthens the groin, calves, thighs, and abdominal muscles.
Premkumar et al present evidence that the traditional “red flags” for ominous causes of back pain can be quite misleading. The correlation between red flags and ominous diagnoses is poor, and prone to producing false negatives: that is, no red flags even when there is something more serious than unexplained pain going on. In a survey of almost 10,000 patients “the absence of red flag responses did not meaningfully decrease the likelihood of a red flag diagnosis.“ This is not even remotely a surprise to anyone who paid attention in back pain school, but it’s good to have some harder data on it.
An ideal pose for stretching out your hips, lower back, glutes, hips, and knees, it also can help to relieve sciatica. Start on your back with your knees bent, and your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Raise your right foot and rest it on top of your left thigh above your knee. Thread your right hand between your legs and grip the back of your left thigh, bringing your left hand to meet it. Pull both legs toward your chest as far as you can. Take 8-10 breaths, and then release. Switch legs, and repeat.
Piriformis syndrome is not considered a serious injury—so RICE is in order for pain caused by triggers, like sitting too long. RICE is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Also, see a primary care doctor or neurologist (nerve specialist), who can recommend physical therapy exercises and exercises for hip pain and other specific types of pain that will help you feel better. Also, a physican therapist can suggest ways exercises that provide pinched nerve relief, as nerve pain relief is what is primarily needed here.
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.
Because you won’t stop stretching them. Many people who have consistent hip flexor tightness would be a lot better off if they just stopped stretching them. This often provides only a temporary relief, giving just a small window of comfort. And guess what? The more you stretch them, the shorter that window of relief becomes, until you’re at the point where you’re stretching them multiple times a day for a long duration just to feel good! That’s no way to live!