“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.”
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.
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.
Keeping your hips mobile is important for overall hip function and athletic performance. Mobility refers to the ability of your joints to move through a pain-free, unrestricted range of motion. For cyclists, hip mobility is critical since pedaling occurs in one plane of motion, and after miles and miles in the saddle, hip tightness and restriction may develop. The following movements will help with hip mobility.
How to: Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you (a). Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot (b). Put your hands behind your body, fingertips facing away from your body and begin to press your hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Keep your back tall and chest open (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the other side.
How to: Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and sit your hips back into a slight squat position. Keep your arms lifted at shoulder height, with your elbows bent and facing the side of the room. Bring one foot up, rotate your hips, and place that foot down on the ground, diagonally behind your body. Pause, then return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.
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.
How to do it: Put a 20- to 36-inch box behind you. With your feet hip-width apart, lift your leg and place the instep of your rear foot on the bench. Lower your hips toward the floor so your rear knee comes close to the floor, keeping your back straight. As you descend, make sure you don’t bend the torso excessively forward and your front knee does not pass your front toes. Pause when your rear knee is close to the floor and your front quad is parallel with the floor, then drive through your front heel to return to the start position. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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.
You can strain or tear one or more of your hip flexors when you make sudden movements such as changing directions while running or kicking. Sports and athletic activities where this is likely to occur include running, football, soccer, martial arts, dancing, and hockey. In everyday life, you can strain a hip flexor when you slip and fall, for example.