Pain From Tight Hip Flexor Muscles
Updated Jan 2016
It is very common to have hip flexor pain. Your hip flexors are the deep muscles within the body which are responsible for bending at the waist and for raising your leg. The primary ones being the Psoas Major and the Iliacus. They are commonly referred to together as the Iliopsoas muscle.
By bending at the hip (waist) with these muscles, this prevents you from bending with the lower back. Unfortunately, most people have poorly conditioned hip flexor muscles and prefer to bend or lean with their lower back. This is further worsened when the hamstrings are both tight and short.
When your hip flexor muscles are weak and poorly conditioned, you are no longer able to maintain a straight and aligned posture from your back to your pelvis. There should be minimum movement between the natural curve of the spine with respect to the pelvis. This is to preserve the healthy distribution of weight on the lumbar discs. The discs which are most prone to injury are the discs closer in proximity to the pelvis (ex. L5-S1).
Tight hips not only contribute to disc injury, but also become very sore, presenting symptoms of tenderness, pain and stiffness. Because these muscles are less well known, we tend to believe that we are sore simply due to the added weight from sitting directly on the muscles themselves or pain due to overuse.
Massage and topical analgesics are a popular method of treatment. This however does not fully address the issue until a proper treatment of stretching and strengthening is practiced. The benefits of massage and other treatments are fully realized when the muscles are increased to an optimal length.
PAIN FROM SITTING AND STANDING
Excessive sitting contributes to tight hip flexors and hip flexor pain. Sitting causes these muscles to relax and deactivate (zero contractive force). They become progressively weaker and shorter. This is because muscles generally tend to become shorter with time from daily contractile activity. This leads to their tightening. Without exercise, they also become smaller in size. Exerting force (muscle contraction) on a muscle which is both tight, short and weak results in a cycle of pain that can be difficult to identify and overcome. Pressure from the weight of sitting amplifies the injury from lack of adequate circulation and reduced nervous activity.
Standing after long periods of sitting causes an immediate impact on the lumbar spine. One of the most important hip flexors, the psoas major muscle becomes chronically shortened and pulls on the lumbar spine (from the hip joint) while in the standing position.
Symptoms of lower back pain become more apparent when this occurs. Due to the soreness that occurs when standing, one finds it more preferable to sit in order to alleviate this soreness. While you are standing, a dull aching sensation is generally felt. Your pelvis tends to tilt forward causing an anterior pelvic tilt. This excessive, abnormal tilt creates imbalanced pressure on your discs and facets joints. This increases the likelihood of a potential disc tear or herniation.
Soreness is experienced as a dull and progressively increasing aching pain in the lower back. A deeper pain is felt directly from the Psoas Major and Iliacus muscle itself due to the tightness, weakness and sustained pull on this muscle while standing. Pain experienced towards the top of the thigh is sometimes due to tightness in the Rectus Femoris hip flexor.
To effectively relieve issues of tight hip flexors, stretching is vital. However, hip flexor stretching in combination with glute muscle stretching is more beneficial. It is difficult for some of us to stretch this muscle because as we do it, we tend to feel the effect of the stretch on other neighboring muscles.
These other muscles such as the hamstrings, quadriceps and abdominals are the first to relax well before the hip flexors themselves. Consequently, they are also the first to fatigue, thereby limiting your ability to effectively stretch. Treating these neighboring muscles may allow you to feel better, but since your hip flexors are not stretched sufficiently, the source of the pain is not well treated.
EXERCISES FOR YOUR HIP FLEXORS
Both exercises will stretch and strengthen your hip and glute muscles. Your gluteal muscles are your primary hip extensors. It is important to incorporate them into this stretch because they are antagonistic to your hip flexors. This allows the hip flexors to relax naturally to relieve chronic tightening in order to improve the effect of the stretch.
By stretching these muscles, you can immediately reduce hip flexor pain and to lengthen them to a more optimal state needed. Symptoms of pain are also reduced as the tension from standing is addressed. It is important to also follow a strengthening program combined with stretching as stretching only partially responsible for symptoms of hip flexor pain.
For more helpful stretches and strengthening techniques, see EXERCISES FOR LOWER BACK PAIN.
These exercises are ideal for pain experienced while sitting. They are great for hip flexor and glute discomfort.