Example: a friend of mine went to the hospital after a motorcycle accident. He’d flown over a car and landed hard on his head. Bizarrely, he was sent home with very little care, and no imaging of his back, even though he was complaining of severe lower back pain. A doctor reassured him that it was just muscle spasms. (This all happened at a hospital that was notorious for being over-crowded and poorly run.) The next day, still in agony, he went to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic, who immediately took him for an x-ray… which identified a serious lumbar fracture and imminent danger of paralysis. He had been lucky to get through the night without disaster! He was placed on a spine board immediately and sent for surgery. The moral of the story? Sometimes, when you’ve had a major trauma and your back really hurts, it’s because your back is broken. BACK TO TEXT
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.
Lucky for us, there are tons of different ways to stretch hip flexors. We’ve put together a broad selection of some of the most popular tight hip flexor stretches below. Some of these stretches may work better for you than others, and there’s also many more hip flexor stretches you can try beyond these. So, experiment with all different kinds of stretches and decide which ones are best for your body.
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.
Kneel on your mat with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of your feet facing down. Bring your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart so they are slightly wider than your hips and press the tops of your feet evenly into the mat. Slowly sit down between your feet. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Then, lean back onto your forearms and slowly lower torso to floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.
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.
The problem is that these muscles aren't designed to be prime movers—they're designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
However, even the things you do every day — like sitting in front of a computer or at a desk for hours — can both weaken and shorten (tighten) your hip flexors, making them more prone to injury. Because of this, exercises (such as squats) and targeted stretches which focus on strengthening the hip muscles and improving hip mobility are key to preventing injuries.
Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is what noted spinal researcher Stuart McGill terms gluteal amnesia—your glute muscles can "go to sleep" and not function properly.
Our hip flexors serve many vital functions. The goal of the hip flexor is to make it easy to for joints to move through their full range of motion smoothly. They’re responsible for important aspects of motion, like our ability to bend, run, or kick. Without our hip flexors, controlling the movement of our legs would be virtually impossible. Our hip flexors also work to stabilize the joints of the hips and lower body.
“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.”
How to: Lie on your back with your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor (a). With your left leg fully extended, press into your right foot to shift onto your left hip. This is your starting position (b). Then, squeeze your right glutes to press your left hip open until you feel a stretch, pause, then return to start. That’s one rep (c). Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
3. Tendinitis and bursitis Many tendons around the hip connect the muscles to the joint. These tendons can easily become inflamed if you overuse them or participate in strenuous activities. One of the most common causes of tendinitis at the hip joint, especially in runners, is iliotibial band syndrome — the iliotibial band is the thick span of tissue that runs from the outer rim of your pelvis to the outside of your knee.
Now, that we have decreased some of the tension in the back, we can focus on strengthening the front. There are loads of awesome core exercises, but let’s take a look at the most common one and make a couple modifications for this postpartum population. Just keep in mind, these are things to look for in a woman that’s 8 weeks or 8 years postpartum. Just because it’s years later doesn’t mean she fully recovered.
Loop a resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.
Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips. Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or back from!) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose long-term, and not only make you a better runner, but make running feel better to you.
Today I’m going to share with you one of my favorite hip flexor stretches. But first, you need to understand this isn’t a standalone fix for the problem. How to truly fix your tight hip flexors is really quite simple, but involves two steps: you need to fix your muscle imbalances and (probably) stretch out those hip flexors like I’m about to show you.