Tight hips are a leading cause for frustration among adults above 30 years old. Most people will resort to what they were taught in gym class…stretching. This tends to work for a while, but slowly the tightness creeps back in. What are you supposed to do? Spend the rest of your life stretching every hour? Would it be better to have a sit-stand desk?
These are the questions most people have when they first start experiencing tight hips. In this post you’ll discover answers to some of the most common questions people have about tight hips including:
- Can tight hips cause pain in other areas? For example, the back, knees, feet, or shoulders?
- What causes tight hips in the first place?
- Why doesn’t stretching work?
- How do tight hips affect being active, like running and squatting?
“I’ve tried stretching, massage, looking up exercises on youtube, but nothing really seemed to stick. Some things seemed to make the tightness worse. I just felt like I didn’t know the right things to do.” – Teri, 48 Scottsdale
Can you relate?
Hip tightness is one of the most frustrating issues one can experience. It can disturb your focus during the day, make sleeping uncomfortable, and make it hard to move and exercise – leaving you drained of energy.
Most people have been told at some point that it’s because they sit too much. So they try standing. Then they remember that stretch they used to do in gym class, so they try that. If that doesn’t work they try yoga, or foam rolling. The worst part is that “tight hips” doesn’t seem like something their healthcare provider is too concerned with – even when it’s disrupting their life.
What’s worse is that for a long time, the wrong advice has been given, and in really bad cases, muscle relaxers and harmful medications are prescribed.
What causes tight hips in the first place?
To understand why hips get tight, you just need to understand one thing. Muscles are reactive, not proactive. In other words, a tight muscle is tight for a reason. They don’t just tighten up for fun. Some of the leading causes for muscle tightness are the following:
Protection: A muscle can spasm after injury to protect an injured area.
Dehydration: A muscle will become stiff and tight if you are dehydrated.
Stability: A muscle will get tight if it senses that a joint does not have enough support.
The truth is that stretching was thought to be the solution for muscle tightness for a long time. Evidence is now pointing to the opposite. It’s kinda like when the food pyramid was upside down for however many years…”uh yeah, we got that one wrong…sorry you’re unhealthy now.”
Most people with tight hips have the third problem on the list above. It’s an issue with stability. To understand this, think of the muscles as two main groups. Stabilizers and movers. The stabilizers hold the joints secure, while the movers do the heavy lifting. If the stabilizers are weak, then the joint becomes unstable. Then the movers start to try to compensate for the weakness by over stabilizing. That’s when things get tight. It’s that simple.
The problem with fixing this is that there are simply too many options when it comes to figuring out who is best suited to help you fix this. Is it trainers? Physical therapists? Chiropractors? Kinesiologists? It can feel overwhelming and confusing to know which treatments will be truly effective.
My goal with this article is to help you understand your tight hips, and how you can fix them naturally and effectively.
A client of ours by the name of Dale saw us a few months ago. Dale had been struggling with hip tightness for years. It was something that he always tried to deal with by stretching, foam rolling, and massage, but it just seemed to gradually get worse.
“Doctors told me that’s just how my hips were, and that I would have to avoid things like squatting or running.”
A couple of weeks before coming to see us, Dale had just finished a round of physical therapy at another clinic for his low back pain, which was caused by his tight hips. Low back pain is something he had also struggled with from time to time, as he would try to become active again.
The truth is that your tight hips may be causing stress to your back, knees, feet, and shoulders. You may have already suspected this.
Can tight hips cause pain in other areas?
Your hips are extremely important to how the rest of your body functions.
Can tight hips cause back pain? If your hips are tight in the front they can cause you to bend forward slightly at the low back all day. It may be hardly noticeable at first, but comes on slowly.
Can tight hips cause knee pain? If there are tight muscles in your hips, remember that means that there are also WEAK muscles in your hip. The weakness in the deep stabilizer muscles means that your femur (thigh bone) moves around too much. This can cause other muscles like your quads, and hamstrings to be overactive. This causes a variety of knee issues.
Can tight hips cause ankle pain? Foot pain? Yes and yes. The instability at your hips can make your calves tighten up to try to help you balance better. Have any trouble balancing on one leg? Go ahead…try it. If it doesn’t seem as effortless as when you were in your 20’s, there’s a stability issue. You should be able to stand straight up, without leaning over the leg you’re standing on.
Can tight hips cause shoulder pain? Again, it’s a yes here. Tight hips cause your entire spine to move differently. There are muscles that attach your pelvis to your shoulder. See the image below. When the hips move differently, those effects are felt up the chain as well, as those muscles try to deal with the changes.
The most important thing to realize about what we just discussed is that focusing on the tight hips is not a long term solution. The CAUSE of the tight hips is the weakness, and instability of the deeper muscles. Finding someone to help you with this is the only way to solve this issue for good.
Until the instability is addressed, the tightness will remain. Once the instability is fixed, the muscles begin to relax, and then things like foam rolling and massage can help.
So the answer to “Why Doesn’t Stretching Work?” is because it focuses on the symptom. Not the cause.
In the case of our client, Dale, we started by examining his entire body and the way he moved.
For Dale we identified 2 causes of his hip tightness.
- Weak stabilizers.
- Stiff hip capsules
- Movement patterns.
The weak stabilizers are the root cause, as we already discussed. What happens if you have weak stabilizers for a long period of time, is you develop poor movement patterns that cause pain. This pain causes inflammation, and then the capsule of tissues around the hip gets stiff.
We used a total body approach to addressing his hip tightness. Within a couple of weeks of doing the right exercises, at the right time, his hips began to open up. He was squatting almost to parallel without hip pain for the first time in years.
“Before, when I would try to squat, I would have pain. The instructor would ask me where I had pain, and I would say everywhere. Now I’m starting to understand how to move and use the right muscles, and it feels like I’ll be able to exercise again.”
Once Dale’s hip were stable, and the tightness was fixed, we were able to address the movement patterns that had developed. With these patterns addressed getting back to squatting and running is just around the corner. Having hips that are stable frees up your big muscles to do what they’re supposed to do, MOVE. They no longer feel like they have to hold you together, and your hips are free to move in 360 degrees of motion.
Are you, or someone you know struggling with tight hips?
If so, and you’re looking for a potential solution for your problem, we are accepting applications for potential clients at our clinic, “The Doctors of Physical Therapy” in Scottsdale.
In order to see if we can help you, and also to determine if we are a good fit for each other, we are offering a free 30 minute “Discovery Visit.”
These visits are limited, and will only be given to qualified candidates who have a strong desire to fix their tight hips. We will have an honest discussion about your health, and help you determine if we can help you.
Because these visits are limited, if you are someone who is looking for a “quick fix” or “overnight solution” you need not apply.
But if you ARE someone who is health conscious, willing to take an active role in your recovery, and want nothing more to recapture an active healthy lifestyle, then it is absolutely likely that we will be able to help you.
PS: If you are not quite ready to sit down with an expert, and instead prefer to do more research. You may find one of the following articles helpful.
If you have tightness in your hip flexors read: “Why Are My Hip Flexors So Tight?”
If you have tight hamstrings “Why Are My Hamstrings Tight?”
If you have tight calves read: “Your Tight Calves Are Costing You”
If you have hip pain read: “Hip Pain: How To Make It Worse”