The hip flexors are an oft-neglected muscle group that can contribute to lower back or hip pain and stiffness. They often get tight from sitting (think office, car, evening tv or reading), or from repetitive motions bringing the knee in front of the hip including running, biking or walking! So basically, if you are a human, listen up! Your hip flexors may be yearning for attention! :)
What are the hip flexors? Specifically, there are two primary hip flexor muscles - the iliacus and the psoas- that originate on the front of the spine in the lower back and the front of the pelvis, and run to the front of the hips. If tight, they can make it tough to stand up straight, or they can pull your lower back into an excessive curve, tilting your pelvis forward and causing extra stress and potential pain.
How to effectively stretch your hip flexors: Hip flexors are tough to stretch correctly, because it is easy to compensate for tight hip flexors by overextending your low back, or by bringing your knee in front of your hip during stretches. When stretching, a general rule of thumb is to contract your abs, tucking your tailbone underneath you, and hold this position while stretching to prevent excess stress in the low back and to ensure an effective stretch.
Great hip flexor stretches are illustrated on a comprehensive website created by core performance. Just follow this link: Core Performance, or from the front page select the heading "exercises" from the footer, then select "movements", and search for (they are listed in alphabetical order): AIS Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch - Sidelying Glute Activation - Half Kneeling Forward Lunge with Rotation
A comfortable stretching sensation should be felt in the front of your hip and thigh WITHOUT low back strain or compression- remember to keep your abs tight, and tailbone tucked! Dynamic stretches (~5-10 second hold, moving into and out of the stretch) are recommended before activity (running, biking). Prolonged stretches (20-30 second static hold) are indicated to actually improve muscle length. Happy stretching!
- Heather Wacksman MSPT