Hip muscle pain can be from your tight hip rotators

Two simple exercises that help

By Sherwin Nicholson | SN Health Resources

External Rotation

Hip muscle pain that is felt deep within the buttock area can be a result of the specific muscles of the hip itself.  These muscles are known as the hip rotators.

Hip rotators are responsible for the external rotation of the leg outwards and to the side of the body.  You can see this simply by sitting and spreading your knees apart as wide as possible.

When you have hip muscle pain, there is a deep pain that has a dull, aching sensation in the buttock areas.  Applying pressure by rubbing this area can worsen the pain as the area is tender.

From a lack of exercise and stretching, these muscles become not only weak and short but also tight and painful.  By applying pressure with the hands, you inadvertently stretch an already tight muscle and worsen the pain.

Most people may prefer massage as an option to help indirectly facilitate the stretch.  To be able to reduce pain symptoms for a long term period, the muscles require more intensive treatment.

external hip rotators

The External Rotators of the hip are also known as the lateral rotator group.

They include the:


Gemellus Superior

Gemellus Inferior

Obturator Externus

Obturator Internus

and Quadratus Femoris

These muscles each attach from the hip to the femur.

The external rotators are very prone to tightness because they are constantly active.  When we sit, pressure is placed on the muscles thereby reducing blood flow and nervous activity.  You can develop a viscous cycle of pain as there is little opportunity for them to recover.

Pain from the Piriformis is one of the most common complaints of hip pain.   A tight piriformis can become very sore, swollen and irritated.  The piriformis then puts pressure on the nearby sciatic nerve affected its function.

The pressure creates pain, a numb sensation and nerve tingling.  The sensation can travel downstream along the back of the leg other either side depending on which muscle is affected.

An important cause of this discomfort is simply because these muscles are rarely rotated internally to lengthen them naturally.   The internal rotators are not active enough to help stretch the external rotators.  Little opportunity is available to relax the external rotators.

Tight external rotators result is a standing position and walking gait in which the knees are observed as pointing outward.   The changed position, therefore, affects the tilt of the pelvis.  The pelvis can tend to tilt towards posterior while standing, walking, sitting and lying down.

The result is imbalanced pressure on lumbar discs resulting in a potential disc bulge posterior to the vertebrae.  Chronic disc bulge may lead to disc rupture and chronic lower back pain.

The correct way to stretch

To allow the pelvis to tilt more anterior to a neutral position, an effective stretch in required.

Many different stretches and exercises are targeted to release the tightness and pain from the external rotators.

External Rotator Stretch

An important one to perform is the Seated Leg to Chest.

The adjacent image demonstrates the final position to achieve.  Initially, it ‘s hard to bring the side of thigh fully against the stomach and chest.  For full details, see the Seated Leg to Chest page.

Take your time with this stretch

This stretch should be done for several minutes per side daily.  Because it stretches such a large group of muscles, you will need to stretch for many days to weeks to benefit long term.  Because we sit on these muscles often every day, we need to stretch diligently.

To stretch your external rotators sufficiently for lasting relief,  it is important to hold the position in the stretch properly.  A few repetitions of stretching or a few seconds may feel like a good start, but a much longer duration is more beneficial.  These muscles can require weeks to months of disciplined stretching to reach optimal length.

 Even though you may feel better with some initial stretching, it is important to go beyond the minimal requirements to prevent the return of hip pain.

The Seated Leg to Chest is only one of many important exercises and stretches necessary for lasting hip and lower back pain.   More exercises can be found HERE along with the instructional guide.

“the ideas here apply to several forms of chronic pain, in my case hip pain. Simple, easy to understand steps that have made a huge difference in pain management and improving quality of life – thank you.”