Imagine not being able to climb stairs, bend over, or even walk Changes in hip joint muscle-tendon lengths with mode of locomotion. Riley, P.O., Franz, J., Dicharry, J., et al. Center for Applied Biomechanics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Gait & Posture, 2010 Feb; 31 (2): 279-83.. All pretty essential if you ask us! But that’s what our bodies would be like without our hip flexor muscles. Never heard of ‘em? It’s about time we share why they’re so important, how your desk job might be making them weaker (ah!), and the best ways to stretch them out.
• Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. Although rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, hands, wrists, feet, elbows and ankles, it can also affect the facet joints in the spine, causing pain and, in severe cases, destruction of the joints. This may allow the upper vertebra to slide forward on top of the lower vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis. The slipped vertebra may put pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots where they exit the spine.
Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
Sacroiliac joint pain can occur when movement in the pelvis is not the same on both sides. Uneven movement may occur when one leg is longer or weaker than the other, or with arthritis in the hip or knee problems. Autoimmune diseases, such as ankylosingspondyloarthropathy, and biomechanical conditions, such as wearing a walking boot following foot/ankle surgery or non-supportive footwear, can lead to degenerative sacroiliitis.
That’s a problem. “Elongated periods of sitting sends messages to certain muscles to stay turned on, which keeps other muscles turned off,” says Beachbody fitness expert Cody Braun. “This creates an imbalance, which can immobilize your hips.” Your hips are built to move in almost any direction, explains Braun, and when they’re stiff, they don’t just make exercise more difficult; they also make you more prone to pain in surrounding joints — including the oft-troublesome lower back.
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.
• Juvenile Spondylarthropathy. Also called juvenile-onset spondyloarthritis (spinal arthritis), this term is used to describe spondylarthropathies that begin before age 16. In addition to affecting the spine, they may cause pain and inflammation in the joints of the pelvis, hips, ankles and knees. They may also affect other body organs such as the eyes, skin and bowels.
Ischiofemoral Impingement is a common but widely unrecognized cause of hip and back pain. It is caused by a narrowing of the space between the pelvic bone and femur bone, which pinches soft tissues between these boney protrusions. Symptoms of ischiofemoral impingement include front hip pain or feeling of stretched muscles in the hip or hip tendonitis, pain in the hip socket, hip pain at night lying on side, and a feeling as if there is a hip out of place. Treatment for ischiofemoral impingement includes rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, and physical therapy aimed at strengthening the gluteal muscles so the patient can better control the pelvis.
The good news is that a well-rounded strength-training program—like the one Félix provides below—can target every muscle in your hips to build better overall strength. Add this routine to your workout two or three times a week to target every muscle in your hips. For each move, complete three rounds of ten reps. If it’s a single-leg exercise, repeat those reps on each leg.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.