Strong muscles support and protect your joints. “Strengthening the lower body takes some of the pressure off of the hip and knee joints,” says William Oswald, DPT, a physical therapist and clinical instructor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health. This can relieve some of the pain and protect against more damage. “It can also make daily tasks, such as climbing the stairs, easier,” he says.
Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is the first step to resuming activities and living an active lifestyle. Let's discuss the reasons for confusion and see if we can realize the causes and treatments for both hip and back pain. Some of a patient's misunderstanding about the origin of the pain is due to not understanding hip and back anatomy. Sounds odd but it's true. The hip joint lies just behind the groin area on each side of the body. At the same time, the spine runs from the base of the skull to the tip of the tailbone. The lumbar spine contains specific nerves that can influence the feelings in the region around the hip area.
When you tell your doctor your hip hurts, the first thing she should do is confirm that your hip is actually the problem. Women might say they have hip pain, but what they may mean is that they have pain in the side of the upper thigh or upper buttock, or they may be experiencing lower back pain, says Stephanie E. Siegrist, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Rochester, New York, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hip pain is often felt in the groin or on the outside of the hip directly over where the hip joint (a ball-and-socket joint) is located.
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.
Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.
Muscle Imbalances – The front of your hips, your hip flexors, are the muscles that will tighten and shorten while you are sitting for hours each day. While you are sitting, the back of your hips, your glutes and your hip extensors, are being overstretched. But just because they are being tightened and stretched respectively, doesn’t benefit either of them. They are also being weakened because of the lack of use of each muscle group.
Starting in a seated position, place your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Try to have your knees perfectly stacked, one on top of the other, and to have your feet flexed to protect your knees. Both of your sit bones should be pressing into the ground. If this is not possible, then prop your hips up onto a blanket or pillow to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.
Start in a runner’s lunge, right leg forward with knee over ankle and left knee on ground with top of your foot flat on the mat. Slowly lift torso and rest hands lightly on right thigh. Lean hips forward slightly, keeping right knee behind toes, and feel the stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold here, or for a deeper stretch, raise arms overhead, biceps by ears. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Start kneeling on your mat with knees hip-width apart and hips directly over knees. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the mat. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing down, and rest palms above glutes. Inhale and lift your chest, and then slowly start to lean your torso back. From here, bring your right hand to rest on your right heel and then your left hand to your left heel. (If you can't reach your heels, turn your toes under; it will be easier to reach your heels in this modification.) Press your thighs forward so they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your head in a relatively neutral position or, if it doesn't strain your neck, drop it back. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and slowly, leading with your chest, lift your torso as you press the thighs down toward the floor.
How to: Sit on the floor with knees bent so that your right shin is positioned in front of you, your left shin behind you and your left hip dropped all of the way to the floor (a). Inhale and press your left hip forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip (b). Exhale and press left hip back to the floor. That’s one rep (c). Complete six to eight reps, working each time to increase your range of motion. Repeat on the opposite side.
Our hip flexors serve many vital functions. The goal of the hip flexor is to make it easy to for joints to move through their full range of motion smoothly. They’re responsible for important aspects of motion, like our ability to bend, run, or kick. Without our hip flexors, controlling the movement of our legs would be virtually impossible. Our hip flexors also work to stabilize the joints of the hips and lower body.
In addition to these exercises, there are simple things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of hip flexor pain. If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up and move around every hour or so. Warm up properly before any physical activity, and stretch regularly at the end of each workout. Your hips will thank you for it!
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place left ankle right below right knee, creating a “four” shape with left leg. Thread left arm through the opening you created with left leg and clasp hands behind right knee. Lift right foot off floor and pull right knee toward chest, flexing left foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Deanna is an ACE® certified personal trainer, Balanced Body® Pilates instructor, and NASM® Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is passionate about inspiring others to lead a healthier lifestyle through fun workouts and healthy food. When she’s not creating new workouts and recipes for her blog The Live Fit Girls she enjoys running with her two dogs and traveling.
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.
A pinched nerve is an uncomfortable condition that may cause shooting pain, tingling, and discomfort, particularly if it occurs in your back, spine, or hip. A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding bones, muscles, or tissues. The pressure interrupts proper nerve function, causing pain, numbness, and weakness.
In cases of strains, tears, and other injuries, strapping or taping your lower back will provide the extra support it needs. Alternatively, for extra support, try the Elastoplast back brace. This will not only promote the natural shape of your lower back during exercise or daily life, but also limit any extra strain placed on your back. For tips on how to apply strapping and tape effectively, see our section on tape and strapping preparation.
So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.
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.