You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
It’s a common issue, says Prevention advisor Rob Danoff, director of family and emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia. "For people who sit a long time at work, the hip flexors and rotators become tight, and the gluteal muscles become weak," he says. "This combination negatively affects our ability to walk, maintain proper posture, and the stability of our spine."
In order to treat this hip and leg pain, it is important to understand the causes of lower back pain. Amongst people below the age of 60, the most common cause of sciatica is a slipped or herniated disc, in the lower lumbar region of the spine. When a disc is swollen or has moved, it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing discomfort and pain. This tends not to happen instantly, but instead generally develops over time. Other causes include:
Here is how you do the hip rotation stretch: Sit on the floor with your knee out straight. Cross one leg over the other by placing your ankle on top of your knee (as if crossing your legs while sitting). Gently pull your knee across your body, and hold for five seconds. Then gently push the knee of the top leg away from you until a stretch is felt in your hip. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly release. Repeat 10 times.
This restorative pose will stretch your shins, knees, hips, spine, and arms. Start with your hands and knees on the mat. Point your toes behind you, allowing your big toes to touch, and spread your knees slightly wider than your hips. Keeping your back flat, sit back on your heels and lower your torso between the legs as you reach as far forward as you can with your arms. Keep your elbows elevated, and rest your forehead on your mat if you can. Take 10-15 breaths, and then release.
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.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Sometimes pain on the side of the hip is a result of bursitis. A weak abductor muscle, a leg length discrepancy, overuse, and an underlying early degenerating hip joint can cause bursitis. At times, the origin cannot be determined. Symptoms include pain on the side of the hip with prolonged walking, side lying in bed or when rising from a chair or similar types of movement.
A diagnostic SI joint injection may be performed to confirm the cause of pain. The SI joint is injected with a local anesthetic and corticosteroid medication. The injection is given using X-ray fluoroscopy to ensure accurate needle placement in the SI joint. Your pain level is evaluated before and 20-30 minutes after injection, and monitored over the next week. Sacroiliac joint involvement is confirmed if your pain level decreases by more than 75%. If your pain level does not change after the injection, it is unlikely that the SI joint is the cause of your low back pain.
Tight hip flexors can result in lower back pain, hip pain and injury. A lot of strain is put on those muscles during activities that involve sprinting and kicking. For example, runners are more prone to hip flexor injuries because of the small, repetitive movement during running. But even if you’re not an athlete, hip flexor injuries can occur during everyday activities (for instance, slipping and falling or running to catch a bus). When those tight muscles are suddenly stretched beyond what they are accustomed to, you might also experience pain in the upper groin region, typically where the hip meets the pelvis.
This standard recommendation reinforces the alarming idea that low back pain that lasts longer than a few weeks is Really Bad News. It’s not. It’s a clue. It’s a reason for concern and alertness. But many cases of low back pain that last for 6 weeks will still go away. Once again, see the 2009 research published in the British Medical Journal, which showed that more than 30% of patients with “new” chronic low back pain will still recover without treatment. BACK TO TEXT
This pose is one of the most comfy ones for the lower back and hips. It will also stretch your neck, shoulders, and chest. Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Breathe in deeply, and then exhale completely, lowering both legs to the floor on your left (keep your knees higher than your hips). Position your arms out to your sides, or place your left forearm on your right thigh (as pictured) to encourage a deep stretch, relaxing both shoulders to the floor. Shift your gaze over your right shoulder. Close your eyes, take 10 deep breaths, and then release. Repeat to your other side.
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
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.