Tight hip flexors occur for a variety of reasons. Those who run frequently or engage in other activities that put strain on the hip flexors are likely to experience hip flexor tightness at one time or another. A blow to the hip or poor conditioning can also be causes of tight hip flexors. These causes can usually be attributed to tiny tears that occur to our hip flexors through rigorous activity.
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People routinely have no pain despite the presence of obvious arthritic degeneration, herniated discs, and other seemingly serious structural problems like stenosis and spondylolistheses. This surprising contradiction has been made clear by a wide variety of research over the years, but the most notable in recent history is Brinjikji 2015. There are painful spinal problems, of course — which was also shown by Brinjikji et al in a companion paper — but they are mostly more rare and unpredictable than most people suspect, and there are many fascinating examples of people who “should” be in pain but are not, and vice versa. Spinal problems are only one of many ingredients in back pain. BACK TO TEXT
If you are experiencing true numbness14 around the groin and buttocks and/or failure of bladder or bowel control, please consider it a serious emergency — do not wait to see if it goes away. These symptoms indicate spinal cord injury or compression15 and require immediate medical attention. (Few people will have symptoms like this without having already decided it’s an emergency, but I have to cover all the bases 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.
Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When something injures or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and leg. Up to 90% of people recover from sciatica without surgery.
How to do it: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor in a tabletop position. Grab a resistance band and hold it directly beneath your shoulders. Loop one foot through the band so it sits halfway down the foot. When ready, move only the banded leg backward, keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle. Your foot should be facing the ceiling, and your hip, thigh, and knee should all be in alignment and parallel to the floor. As you move your leg backward, focus on contracting the glute and not moving the knee joint. When you can’t extend back farther without changing your leg position, stop. Slowly lower to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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.
You're more likely to get a hip flexor injury if you've had one in the past, you don't warm up properly before engaging in athletic activity, your muscles are already tight or stiff, or your muscles are weak from being overused. If, while exercising, you try to do too much at once in too short an amount of time, you can also put yourself at risk for a hip flexor injury.
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