Have you tried stretching and stretching and they still seem “tight”??
It is very common for the majority of people to report their hip flexors are “tight” or are told by someone that their hip flexors are “tight.” Most of us sit a lot during the day, then go home and sit on the couch some more! Thus, our hip flexors are prone to become stiff, shortened, and weak. Most people feel a “tight” sensation in the hip flexors from so much sitting...but this often indicates hip flexor weakness!
So, if you have tried stretching, stretching, and more stretching and you still feel as if your hip flexors are “tight” then you may need to take a different approach!
So, what are your hip flexors? Where are they located? What is their main role?
First, you have the iliopsoas muscle made up of two muscles with a common insertion onto the bone, the iliacus and the psoas major. The psoas actually originates from the vertebral bodies in the lumbar spine while the iliacus originates in the iliac fossa of the pelvis.
Then, you have the TFL (aka tensor fasciae latae) that starts at the ASIS on your pelvic bone and actually inserts into your IT band that runs down the lateral thigh. And, we can’t forget about the rectus femoris muscle. This muscle is part of the quadriceps, however its attachment is at the pelvis, making it also a hip flexor!
These muscles all may have slightly different functions, however overall they work to flex the hip joint, stabilize the spine, and anteriorly tilt the pelvis!
How do you know if you have limited flexibility in the hip flexors??
So, while some people may not actually have “tight” hip flexors, there are many people that do have tight hip flexors and limited flexibility. I recommend seeing a health professional such as a physical therapist to assess you. There is a test called the “Thomas Test” which is designed to assess hip flexor flexibility. This test can determine which of the hip flexors listed above may be contributing to your impairments or problem! If you do have limited flexibility, then you may need a combination of hip flexor stretching and strengthening.
When it comes to hip flexor stretching, it is crucial that you are doing those stretches correctly because they are often done wrong and it ends up putting increased stress through the anterior joint capsule of the hip! This can cause other issues!
What if you pass the Thomas Test, yet still feel tightness in the hip flexors?!
If you’ve been assessed with the Thomas Test, yet still feel like you have “tight” hip flexors, then you likely fall into the category where you have increased tone in the hip flexors (i.e. increased muscle tension). This can occur due to poor stability of the lumbar spine/core. Our bodies are pretty amazing at compensating → what happens is the body recognizes that there is poor core stability and to compensate, the hip flexors develop increased muscle tension or tone in order to help create stabilization. But, then you get that “tight” sensation!
So, how do we get rid of that???
We need to DECREASE the tone in the hip flexor muscles. This can be done via various manual therapy techniques that your physical therapist can help you with!
Then, we need to improve your core control! This can look different for every person based on your specific needs and where you are at currently. See a physical therapist who can assess you & help guide you with safe exercises!
Add specific strengthening exercises to strengthen the hip flexors so they can perform their main role as a hip flexor and not become overworked by also having to stabilize the core/lumbar spine!
One of my favorite exercises to strengthen the hip flexors while also working on core stabilization is “Lying Psoas March”, which I first saw by Dr. Zach Long (The Barbell Physio). Here is the link below:
As always, make sure you are assessed by a physical therapist and not just blindly attempting exercises that may not be safe for you! A physical therapist will also help determine if there is any other issues such as ruling out a hip joint problem and ensuring that you are training safely in order to help you optimize your performance!
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