Whether you run long distance, sit in a chair all day, or find yourself somewhere in between, our challenging modern lifestyles guarantees you may find yourself with tight hip flexors or living your life with an anterior pelvic tilt.
When your hip flexors become overly tight, everything may seem out of sync. You may feel like you walk funny, can’t run without knee pain, your lunges and squats are “off”, and your low back may ache or fatigue easily. Sound familiar? You may have tight hip flexors.
Hip Flexor Anatomy and Biomechanics
The hip flexors are a group of muscles on the front of the body that crosses the hip. These muscles include the iliopsoas group, and the quadriceps group (specifically the Rectus Femoris). The hip flexors work in concert with your legs while walking or running and are responsible for flexing (bending) your hip, or drawing your thighs toward your torso. Sitting up, kicking a ball, marching, and lifting a leg to climb a ladder are all activities that involve your hip flexors.
Issues and Symptoms
You might imagine that your hip flexors get tight from overuse, while this is true, your hip flexors can actually get so tight from underuse that they stop or inhibit other muscles in your body from working.
You may have tight hip flexors if you feel discomfort in the front of the hip that feels worse when moving your leg toward your chest or if you have difficulty taking your leg behind your body and feel your low back working in order to do so.
Chronic sitting also leads to short and tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexor’s pull on the pelvis rotating it forward (anteriorly).This changes your posture by causing excessive curvature of the lower back (lumbar lordosis), a protruding belly (we all want that right?), knee dysfunction, and altered weight bearing through the spine. Tight hip flexors can even inhibit your glutes from activating when you walk. If this happens, not only can your bottom become flat and flabby, but back pain and or discomfort generally follow.
A true stretch for those tight hip flexors
Hip flexor stretching has become very popular in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so. However, this seems to be one of those stretches that either is performed incorrectly or too aggressively.
So here’s a stretch for those hip flexors that has increasingly become one of my favorites. IT is the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch. It is a true hip flexor stretch because when done correctly it truly stretches the hip flexor and doesn’t just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.
Key Points to the Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch
- There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch. When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching the hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris muscle.
- Keep it to a one joint stretch. Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee. This incorporates both the rectus and the psoas, but I find that there are far too many people who cannot perform this stretch appropriately. They compensate by usually stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
- Stay tall. Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip. Most people are too tight for this, trust me. You will end up stretching out your anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
- Incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt. Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt. This will give you the “true” stretch you are looking for. Most people won’t even need to lean in a little; they feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
- If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder. Many people have a hard time turning on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it’s key to this stretch.
- Use your hands to guide your hips. I will usually start this stretch with my hands on my hips so I can feel the posterior pelvic tilt. Place your fingers in the front and your thumbs in the back and cue them to posteriorly tilt to make your thumbs move down.
- Engage your core. Once you can master the posterior pelvic tilt, progress to assist by cueing core engagement. Do this by placing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or hold a “massage” stick or dowel in front of you and push down “into the ground”. The key is to have your arms straight and to push down with your core, not your triceps.
So there you have it. The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch is a great stretch for those tight hip flexors and requires no equipment other than your own body. This works great for those with low back pain, hip pain, and postural or biomechanical issues related to having too much anterior pelvic tilt. Give it a try and if you still need guidance, stop by and talk to one of the therapists atSynergy Manual Physical Therapy.
– Albert Song Levingston, LPTA
Synergy Manual Physical Therapy
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Colorado Springs, CO 80920
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