Unlocking Hip Tightness

File under: Hip flexors are a big deal.

Whether you are an Average Joe fitness enthusiast, or one of my dedicated golfing clients, we all share a common lifestyle fault; we live in a time of excessive sitting. We sit for work. We sit at home watching TV. We drive our kids everywhere, and sit watching their sports or plays or music performances. We sit at the beach, in the movies, at dinner….. and it all adds up.

For many people, excessive sitting leads to back and hip pain. So, what do we do? We stretch, right? The problem is, while many people are knowledgeable enough to stretch their hamstrings or thighs, they often miss the “key” to releasing the hips and helping the low back…. stretching the Hip Flexor muscle group. The Hip Flexor muscle group consists of  several muscles whose job is to flex the hip, ie, pull the knees towards the chest.  These muscles also pull the upper body towards the lower body. 

Image result for picture of hip flexor muscle group

You know that feeling when you get out of the car and can’t stand up? That’s your Hip Flexors complaining! You know that nagging pain at the front of your hip, which sometimes wraps around the hip? That’s your Hip Flexors! And pain is often the least worry… Tight Hip Flexors can cause the pelvis to tilt anteriorly ( forward) and cause arching of the back and subsequent back pain. Tight Hip Flexors inhibit hip extension ( the action of the glutes/butt muscles). Shutting off the glutes is a big problem, as weak glutes then increase the likelihood of back issues ongoing.  Tight Hip Flexors can cause knee pain as well, since one of the muscles travels down the thigh and attaches below the knee on the tibia.

Tight Hip Flexors can change the alignment of the pelvis in a way that makes you lose hip rotation, and this is a big deal for golfers. You can stretch and mobilize until you are blue in the face, but if you can’t release your Hip Flexors, you won’t get far. I ALWAYS recommend soft tissue work (like massage or myofascial release work) of some kind, as stretching alone won’t do the trick.  As bakers know, you have to knead the dough before you stretch it, or it will just spring back. 

One of my go to stretches for lengthening the Hip Flexor muscle group is a half kneeling Hip Flexor stretch and all of it’s variations, including the rear foot elevated and standing versions.

When performing the stretch, it’s essential that a neutral hip is maintained. Curl the back foot under, squeeze the glutes and draw the abs in. Place a pad under the knee if kneeling bothers the knee. You will feel a stretch at the front of the hip of the kneeling leg, where the Hip Flexor muscle group is located. Even if the stretch is subtle, stick with it.  Often, I will extend the same arm as the kneeling leg to increase the stretch up into the torso. A split stance standing Hip Flexor stretch is great when you can’t get on the floor. Again, with both these variations,  keep the hip neutral.  

The half kneeling position shown in the video is not only great for this stretch, but also for many other core and leg exercises. Getting there while maintaining neutral hip and core control gives great practice for many other important exercises and movement patterns.

So, find your best soft tissue therapist, add in your own myofascial work with rollers, balls or sticks, and get to unlocking your hips for a happier back, better hip motion, and if you are a golfer, a better golf game.