Why are my hip flexors so tight?

Why are my hip flexors always so tight?!

Hips don’t lie, and when they feel tight, they’re often reporting a stability and strength problem. Here you can find out:

  • Basic hip joint and muscle anatomy
  • Why your hips feel tight and why stretching may not be the answer
  • What to do to relieve hip tightness

Basic hip joint and muscle anatomy

The hip joint is made up of a ball and socket, allowing for movement in many directions. In order to control these multi-directional movements, the muscles of the hip – especially the deep ones – need adequate strength and stability.

                    Hip joint                       Deep hip muscles

The most important job of the deep hip muscles is to keep the ball (top of the leg bone) in an optimal position in the socket (hip bone). When they don’t do this job well, the ball may do some extra shifting around during movement, instead of purely rolling and gliding. This excessive motion may be referred to as ‘micro-instability’. It can cause irritation and pain in the hip joint itself, or lead to discomfort in other parts of the body such as the knees or low back.

The body responds to micro-instability by contracting muscles. When muscles contract, they shorten and can provide stability to joints. Generally speaking, the muscles located deep and close to the spine play the largest role in stability. Meanwhile, the superficial muscles further from the spine play a greater role in moving the limbs.

The deep stabilizing muscles should be working during nearly all movements, so that the bigger ‘mover’ muscles can act most effectively to get you where you want to go. If these deeper muscles are weak or inhibited, then the larger, stronger muscles may be used to compensate. The problem with this, is that these larger muscles are not meant to stabilize – they are made for movement. Though they may try to compensate for the weak stabilizing musculature, it’s difficult for them to take on both roles.

Why your hips feel tight, and why stretching may not be the answer

What we commonly see happen, then, is overuse and strain on large muscles like the hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings (see the highlighted muscles below). Your hip flexors may feel tight because they are working overtime to help provide stability – not because they need to be stretched!  The same thing goes for your hamstrings and quadriceps. Overuse of these large muscle groups may lead to strain in the muscles themselves, or at their attachments to bone. Not only that, but it can also lead to compression and irritation at multiple joints- hips, knees, pelvis or low back. 

     

What to do to relieve hip tightness

Exercises to promote stability and strength of the deep hip muscles are very important, and a staple in many programs to address the underlying cause of knee, hip, back, or even foot pain. Stretching may give short-term relief, but it often won’t solve the root of the issue. Deep muscular strength and stability is necessary to stop the hip flexors, hamstrings and quadriceps from getting so tight in the first place. Give the following exercises a try to start optimizing your hip stability. As a bonus, check out these additional exercises for core stability – your body will thank you!

Side-lying hip external rotation: Perform this exercise for 1-2 weeks before moving on to the next level.

Posterior reach with band: Try this 12-15 times per leg, for 2-3 sets.

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