With the amount of sitting most of us have to do on a daily basis, it’s common for hip and lower back muscles to get tight as they remain in a shortened position over extended periods of time. Hip flexor muscles attach the hip joints to the top of the femur and the inside of the knee, allowing flexibility of the upper leg. When we sit for long periods of time, these muscles tighten, causing stiffness and pain. Hip flexor stretches can loosen up these muscles to take some strain off the lower back and restore a normal range of motion.
Often tight hip flexors manifest in pain elsewhere in the body such as the lower back and hamstrings. We don’t pay a lot of attention to hip flexors because they’re buried deep in the body and aren’t regularly activated through conscious effort. However, the right hip flexor stretches can loosen them right up into their natural state.
What are Hip Flexors?
Hip flexors are a group of hip muscles that connect the lumbar spine, pelvis, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and knees. They’re responsible for the mobility of the lower extremities, as well as core stability and balance. They also allow you to raise your knee upward.
The muscle group includes:
- Iliopsoas – (iliac and psoas muscles grouped together) work to flex the hip
- Rectus femoris – one of the quadriceps at the front of the thigh
- Sartorius – attaches from the top of the large pelvic bone (ilium) at the iliac crest to the top of the tibia (shin bone)
- Tensor fasciae latae – a muscle located at the outside front of the hip which flexes and abducts the thigh (moves it away from the body)
- Pectineus – in the front of the pelvic bone between the iliopsoas and adductor muscles (those that move the leg in toward the body)
- Gracilis – a thin muscle that runs the length of the inner thigh, attaching the pubic bone to the top of the tibia
- Longus, brevis, and magnus adductors – a group of muscles of the inner thigh (along with the pectineus and gracilis) that move the femur in toward the middle of the body
- Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus – muscles of the upper legs and buttocks that attach the hips to the back above and the legs below.
True Hip Flexor Stretches
The hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) attach the pelvis to the leg bones.
Why You Should Stretch Your Hip Flexors
You may not be able to see your hip flexors, but you sure can feel them if they’re not working properly. A good physical therapist or personal trainer will show you how to unlock your hip flexors, but not everyone has the time or need for a professional. These tips should help close that gap.
Tightness and pain in hip flexor muscles are often accompanied by tight hamstrings. Undue strain is put on the lower back causing pain there as well. In addition, tight flexors can result in an anterior pelvic tilt, in which the front of your pelvis is pulled forward from your spine and out of alignment. Lower back pain is one of the first symptoms.
“A chronic state of shortening can lead to an increased anterior pelvic tilt which is very harmful to the discs, especially within the L5-S1 region [lower back]. A tight iliacus muscle (part of the iliopsoas) also corresponds to a tight psoas,” writes Low Back Pain Program. (1)
In the context of muscle fitness, strong hip flexors are crucial to abdominal and glute muscle flexibility, strength, and form. Even more importantly, fit and flexible hip flexors enable proper posture and wide ranges of mobility of the back, hips, and legs.
Tight hip flexors pull your posture out of whack, affecting every part of your body from your head to your feet. Healthy hips and hip flexion are a vital part of a healthy body.
“Restrictions in hip joint mobility can not only cause hip pain, but also affect the back and knee by changing the mechanics of how they move. Tightness of the hip flexors located at the front of the hip can affect the position of the low back and sacroiliac joints and how they function in relation to each other,” writes the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Rehabilitation (2)
Over time, this strain on the hips, back, and neck will take its toll and you can experience chronic pain from muscle, fascia, and nerve constriction. (3, 4) Tingling, numbness, loss of muscle strength, and limited range of mobility can follow. That why it’s important to practice hip flexor stretches every day if you work in an office or run regularly. These hip flexor exercises and stretches will help relieve tightness, and support your fitness and weight loss journeys.
12 Hip Flexor Stretches
Given how important these invisible muscles are and how a complete lifestyle change is beyond the realm of possibility for most of us, it’s important to remember to include hip strengthening exercises in our workout regimes. At work, we may have to sit more than we would like so a little extra consideration can alleviate or avoid hip flexor pain.
Following are some hip flexor stretches and exercises designed specifically to show you how to stretch your hips. Add these to your regular stretch routine for best results.
1. Assisted Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a great beginner hip flexor stretch, as you can support yourself with a solid object to ensure you get the correct form.
- Lay down your yoga mat and get into a half-kneeling position with your back leg being the one you are about to stretch.
- Hold a stick in front of you and actively push it down into the ground. This will engage your core and stretch all the right muscles.
- Keep your body upright and rotate your pelvis inward, squeezing your glutes.
- Then, keeping your muscles engaged and your body upright, lean forward at the hips for 2 deep breaths.
- Repeat 8-10 reps per leg.