Tight hip flexors can cause a number of problems with your body. Two of the biggest problems is back pain and hip pain. When the three primary hip flexors known as Psoas Major, Illacus and Rectus Femoris are tight they can tilt your pelvis into a position that extends the spine. This may cause back pain. Most people will try to fix the problem with stretching; however, in my opinion stretching will not permanently help and may even lead to further dysfunction.
When a personal training client comes to me with tight hip flexors the first thing we do is try to figure out why the hip flexors are tight. When you have a tight muscle it’s generally tight for a reason; therefore, just doing stretching is not going to solve the problem. It will eventually tighten up again as soon as you ease up on your stretching program. Furthermore, stretching a tight muscle might open up a range of motion that your body is not ready for and can lead to a more serious injury. What you really want is flexibility (or mobility) with stability.
How do you get Mobility and Stability for the Hip Joint?
Whenever I want to increase the flexibility of a muscle or joint I take a three-prong approach. The first thing I do (with my personal training clients) is looking at the body as a whole through a range of motion and muscle testing evaluations. Sometimes when you have a tight hip flexor the problem is really coming from a different part of the body. You may have an issue with your ankle or knee that’s making the hip compensate and tighten up. Let’s assume for the purposes of this article that the problem is isolated and in the hip. Now if the problem is isolated to the hip there are two main things I would do. The first thing is starting them on a joint mobility program. Secondly, I would go after strengthening the antagonistic muscle group.
I like joint mobility movement because when you move through comfortable ranges of motion without trying to stretch your muscles you release synovial fluid within the joint, which lubricates, protects and heals the joint without forcing yourself into positions of instability. Here is a link to an article I wrote about joint mobility movement so you can better understand it. In addition, here is a video I made for one of my clients who was having some hip issues.
When it comes to permanently increasing the flexibility of your hip flexors (Psoas Major, Illacus and Rectus Femoris) the key to doing this is strengthening the opposing muscle groups. Check out this post I did called Muscle Tightness Comes from Muscle Weakness. Many times when a muscle is tight, it is because the opposing muscles are actually weak. For example, if you have tight hip flexors your body will not let you do the opposite motion completely. You will be limited in hip extension.
Therefore, what you have to do is strengthen your hip extensors. In this case, it would be primarily your Gluteus Maximus and hamstrings. What’s happening is that your body is sensing weakness and instability whenever you try to extend your hip so to protect itself it tightens up the hip flexors.
Good exercises to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings are bridges, hip thrusts and kickbacks. These movements will increase the flexibility of the hip flexors. Here is a video of Bret Contreras performing and explaining the hip thrust. You should start with your body weight.
Now to review: the first thing you have to do is look at your body as a whole if you determine that the problem is isolated to the hip. Thereafter, start a joint mobility program and then strengthen your hip extensors. If you do feel like you’re in some type of compensation pattern and that’s what’s making your hips tighten up, I recommend you see a professional to help you solve the problem.
I hope this article helps your hip flexor pain. I know how hard it can be when your body can’t do the things you want it to.
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Best – Mike Cola