Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
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The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.
The hip is a very stable ball and socket type joint with an inherently large range of motion. The hip contains some of the largest muscle in the body as well as some of the smallest. Most people lack mobility due to a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Periods of prolonged sitting results in tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings. Tightness in the muscles and ligaments can created joint forces that result in arthritis, postural problems, bursitis, and mechanical back pain.
While sciatica is healing, try to remain active. Motion can actually help reduce inflammation and pain. A physical therapist can show you how to gently stretch the hamstring and lower back. Practicing tai chi or yoga can help stabilize the affected area and strengthen your core. Depending on your medical condition, certain exercises may not be recommended. Your doctor may also recommend taking short walks.
Back “spasms” are a largely a myth — there’s no such thing a sustained painful contractions of muscles in otherwise healthy people (see Cramps, Spasms, Tremors & Twitches) — but the kernel of truth in the idea of “spasms” may be the idea of trigger points, which are hypothetical “micro cramps,” tiny patches of painfully contracting muscle. Although this idea is controversial, it is nevertheless one of the most likely explanations for common aches and pains that mostly stick to one area (especially the back) and have no other obvious cause. See Back Pain & Trigger Points. BACK TO TEXT
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.
The condition is cauda equina syndrome. It involves “acute loss of function of the neurologic elements (nerve roots) of the spinal canal below the termination (conus) of the spinal cord,” where the nerves spread out like a horse (equina) tail. Again, this condition causes symptoms in the “saddle” of the body: butt, groin, inner thighs. BACK TO TEXT
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.
Quadriceps stretch: Stand at an arm's length away from the wall with your injured side farthest from the wall. Facing straight ahead, brace yourself by keeping one hand against the wall. With your other hand, grasp the ankle on your injured side and pull your heel toward your buttocks. Don't arch or twist your back. Keep your knees together. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
Sacroiliitis is an inflammation of one or both of the sacroiliac joints, the spot where the lower spine connects to the pelvis. Sacroiliitis can cause pain in the buttocks, lower back, and may even extend down one or both legs. The pain can worsen with prolonged standing or climbing stairs. Sacroiliitis can be caused by arthritis, injury, pregnancy, or infection.
On the contrary, the following piriformis stretches offer incredible effects in the treatment of sciatica pain. Note that you need to warm up before the stretches for a few minutes, and remain within the comfort limits. It is important to consult your spine specialist first. Then you can start with these 10 piriformis stretches for sciatica relief, and you will be surprised by the positive effects!
Holland also suggests doing strength work in different planes of motion to keep all the muscles in and around your hip flexors, especially your glutes, firing correctly.“You can’t have good hip flexion if your glutes are tight or weak,” Nurse says, “so it’s super important that you’re always stretching and strengthening the front of your hip flexor and the back, which are the glute muscles.”
If you suffer with hip pain, this can be especially hard, as every movement we make, it seems, utilizes the hip in some way. Often, hip pain presents as dislocated hip symptoms because the hip pops when you move. This can be especially frightening, making one think the hip is broken. When one experiences hip pain running all down the right side of the body, with lower back pain in the right side above the hip area-- combined with pain that runs down the back of the leg, or upper thigh pain when walking, you may have sciatica, a condition caused by a compression of the sciatic nerve.
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.
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.