Updated: Sep 20, 2021
It seems like everyone has ‘tight hip flexors’ nowadays. To find relief, your friend might hold a lunge on a bench to stretch out their hips, while another may swear by the ‘spiky physio ball thing’ for trigger point massage. Both may get relief, both may have ‘fixed’ their tight hips, or both may get no benefit at all and be stuck for eternity figuring out what’s going on. The fact of the matter is, there are many causes for the sensation of having tight hips but without an in-depth movement analysis, there is no single recipe to fix tight hip. Nonetheless, this article serves to troubleshoot certain reasons for tightness.
1. Shortened hip flexors: for many people, sitting for prolonged periods is the main cause of tightness.
2. Weak hip flexors: while each hip flexor muscle functions slightly differently, their overall combination allows them to flex the hip joint, anteriorly rotate the pelvis, and extend and stabilise the lumbar spine.
3. Repetitive overuse of hip flexors: In runners, when lifting the leg up with each stride, this repeated shortening of the hip flexors isn’t compensated by a lengthening movement.
However, without assessment from a physiotherapist, there are many reasons as to what could be causing the tight sensation at the hip. Furthermore, when looking at the anatomy of the hip flexors, there are a multitude of muscles within the region that could be tight. Therefore, differentiating between them is difficult as they all have different origins and insertions.
The hip flexor complex includes:
Iliopsoas, which is actually two muscles, the psoas and the iliacus
Tensor fasciae latae
With tight hip flexors being uncomfortable within itself, due to their attachments to the lumbar spine with stabilisation, this could cause overflow into lower back pain. While you may be waiting to see a physiotherapist, you can still troubleshoot the causes and try these exercises at home for relief.
If you have true ‘tightness’ of the muscles, try this stretch:
Hip flexor bed stretch: Hug the opposite knee towards your chest to maintain a neutral pelvis then slowly let your other leg hang off the bed up to 2 minutes.
Sometimes weak hip flexors may mask themselves as increased tone or tightness as they are continually overworked. Try this strengthening exercise:
Psoas march: Gently lower one leg while maintaining the 90o position of the other and alternate legs
Poor control and weakness of other muscles may cause hip tightness due to the hip flexors compensating. Try these strengthening exercises:
Dead bugs: Gentle lower the opposite arm and leg together while maintaining a neutral spine. Focus on controlling your breathing and abdominal muscles.
Glute bridge: Focus on lifting your bottom towards the ceiling. You might feel a slight stretch in the front of your hip.
Konrad, A., Močnik, R., Titze, S., Nakamura, M., & Tilp, M. (2021). The Influence of Stretching the Hip Flexor Muscles on Performance Parameters. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1936. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18041936
Moreside, Janice M, & McGill, Stuart M. (2012). Hip Joint Range of Motion Improvements Using Three Different Interventions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1265–1273. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f2351
Thorborg, K., Bandholm, T., Zebis, M., Andersen, L. L., Jensen, J., & Hölmich, P. (2016). Large strengthening effect of a hip-flexor training programme: a randomized controlled trial. Knee surgery, sports traumatology, arthroscopy : official journal of the ESSKA, 24(7), 2346–2352. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00167-015-3583-y