What Are Hip Flexors?
If your hips are sore or you have lower back pain, tight hip flexors may be to blame. Hip flexors are a group of muscles that help your hips and lower body move. If those muscles get tight, they can cause stiffness, pain, and other problems. Here’s what you need to know.
Your hip flexors are a group of muscles near the top of your thighs. They include your:
- Iliacus and psoas major muscles
- Rectus femoris, which is part of your quadriceps
These muscles allow your hips to twist. They also help you walk, bend, kick, and lift your knees and legs.
What Are Symptoms and Causes of Tight Hip Flexors?
You need to extend or stretch your hip flexor muscles regularly to keep them flexible and working the way they should. But sitting for a long time has the opposite effect. It keeps your hip flexor muscles short and tight. That’s why you may feel like your hips or back are sore or stiff after a long car ride or after sitting at your desk all day.
Certain types of exercise, like running, can also up the odds that your hip flexors become tight. When you run, you shorten your hip flexors rather than lengthen them. If you run regularly, you’re more likely to have tight hip flexors.
Tight hip flexors make it harder to walk, bend, and stand. They can also lead to back pain and muscle spasms in your lower back, hips, and thighs. Very tight hip flexors can tear when you exercise or make a sudden move.
What Can You Do About Tight Hips?
Stretching regularly helps your hip flexors stay loose. That can lower your odds of having hip and back pain and help you avoid injuries.
Do the following 4 easy stretches daily. You can do them before you exercise as part of your warm-up routine, after long periods of sitting, or whenever your hips feel tight.
- Seated butterfly stretch
- Hip flexor stretch
- Seated rotation stretch
- Standing hip flexor stretch
Seated Butterfly Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Your back should be straight.
- Slowly let your knees fall open. Then pull the soles of your feet together.
- Keeping your hands on your feet or ankles, relax your knees and let them get closer to the floor.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Make sure you continue to breathe as you stretch.
Hip Flexor Stretch
- Lie flat on your back on a stable bench or on your bed. Let your legs bend at the knee and hang comfortably off the end of the bench or edge of the bed.
- Slowly lift one leg and bend your knee. Then pull your knee toward your chest. (Your hips should feel stretched but not painful.) Keep your other leg relaxed and hanging off the bench.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Then switch legs. Repeat on each side two to four times.
NOTE: You can also do this exercise flat on the floor. Instead of having one leg hanging off the edge, extend it straight out along the floor.
Seated Rotation Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
- Cross your right leg over your left. Then bend your right leg at the knee.
- Slowly twist your torso toward your right (bent) knee.
- Turn your head toward your right shoulder.
- If you can, put your left arm on the outside of your right leg for a full twist.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch legs. Repeat two times on each leg.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
- Stand about an arm’s length from a wall.
- Put your hands on the wall. Then step back with your right foot. Your right leg should be fairly straight, and your left knee should bend slightly.
- Slowly push your butt and lower back forward until you feel a stretch in your right hip and thigh.
- Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then switch legs. Repeat one to two times.
It’s a good idea to do exercises that strengthen your hips, too. Strong hip flexors reduce risk of injury and may help you avoid pain. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or a certified personal trainer about exercises that can help strengthen your hips.
Arthritis Foundation: “Standing Hip Flexors and Quadriceps Stretches,” “Seated Butterfly Stretch.”
American Council on Exercise (ACE): “Three Stretches for Opening Up Tight Hips,” “Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch.”
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Hip Conditioning Program.”
Mayo Clinic: “Hip Pain.”
Richard Sedillo, PT, COMT, physical therapist and owner of Arizona Manual Therapy Centers in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Mercy Health (Mercy Medical System): “Hip Flexor Tear or Strain.”